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Why All Calories Are Not EqualPublished:
It’s time to stop thinking that calories are just a number. Calories measure the
amount of energy provided by a food or beverage. Foods can be categorized into three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Many foods contain a combination of all three macros. Per gram, each macronutrient provides a certain amount of energy.
Carbohydrates and protein contain four calories per gram, but fat is a bit more
calorically dense providing nine calories per gram. Not all carbohydrate calories are equal primarily due to the presence or lack of fiber and sugar. Fiber is a form of carbohydrate derived from plants that our bodies cannot completely digest. A few beneficial roles of fiber include controlling blood sugars, aiding in lowering cholesterol levels, and contributing to an increased feeling of fullness.
Compare two slices of bread with the same calories and macronutrients: one made with refined white flour and the other made with 100% whole wheat flour. A crucial nutritional difference between these two slices is fiber. The whole wheat fiber-containing bread will have a more time-released effect of sugar into the bloodstream compared to a rapid release from the slice devoid of fiber. By binding to excess cholesterol in the small intestines, soluble fiber acts like an Uber and whisks cholesterol out of the body through excretion. Keep in mind foods made with white refined flour, regardless of how few calories they may have, also are top contributors to the detriment of gut health. When choosing bread, try to choose one that has at least 2-3 grams of fiber per slice. It is recommended that women aim for 21-25 grams of fiber and 30-38 grams for men daily.
Added sugars are pro-inflammatory which can increase the risk of diseases such
as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and diseases of the bowel. These sugars can
quickly drive up empty calories (calories that provide little to no nutritional value)
contributing to weight gain. Added sugars also wreak havoc on the health of our gut.
Poor gut health is linked to numerous disease states including autoimmune diseases, depression, obesity, cognitive decline, and cardiovascular disease. Like white flour, added sugars can also contribute to uncontrolled blood sugars. Blood sugar control is important for ensuring optimal energy levels and mood. Well-controlled levels can also help prevent us from experiencing blood sugar spikes and crashes causing us to reach for more sugary carbs throughout the day. Make a point to look at the nutrition labels on food packages. Every 4 grams of added sugar is like scooping a teaspoon into a sugar bowl and then pouring it into your mouth. That might make you look at added sugars a little differently from here on out. Some added sugars can be deceiving. Sugars like organic cane sugar, maple syrup, and honey are all considered added sugars. Ideally, it is best to consume as little added sugar as possible. The American Heart Association recommends limiting it to 25g per day for women and 37g for men- equivalent to 6 tsp
and 9 tsp added sugar. Protein sources provide unique energy in that our bodies have to work longer and harder to break down, digest, absorb, utilize, and store their calories compared to the other macronutrients. This process also contributes to a greater feeling of fullness for longer periods of time. Our bodies need a steady amount of protein to make and repair cells. Protein is often thought of as animal-sourced, but plants including beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can be integral in maximizing nutritional value and often with less caloric cost compared to animal-based proteins. Plant-based foods are lower in fat and saturated fat than animal proteins and are good sources of fiber, B-
vitamins, folate, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Calories from plant fats are important for brain health, supply fat-soluble vitamins,
and contain anti-inflammatory properties that only a handful of foods possess. Fish oil, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and avocados are all foods that help to cool inflammation.
Conversely, fats found in most processed foods such as palm oil, soybean oil, and
safflower oil can further fuel inflammation going on in the body. The calories per serving in these oils are equivalent; however, the effects on our health can be vastly different. Where are you going to invest your fat calories? While micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) do not provide calories, we should
consider their variety and abundance when making macro choices throughout the day.From immune health to gut health to brain health to weight control, focus on getting more of a nutritional bang for your caloric buck.
Aimée Plauché, LDN, RD
Nutritional Wellness Consulting