What's In a Calorie?

calories diets exercise Aug 13, 2021

I'm sure the idea of "calories in/calories out" is nothing new to anyone reading this. It's not so straightforward, however. In the case of burning excess calories, it is not simple math.

So, what's in a calorie? A calorie is a unit of energy that comes from food broken down by the body by a series of chemical reactions. These reactions supply energy for movement, warmth, metabolism, for breathing, among many other important bodily functions.  It is commonly understood that a pound of body fat equals 3500 stored calories - in other words, fat.

Many popular diets would have you believe that if you cut back 500 calories per day for a week, you could lose one pound. Burn another 500 calories per day through exercise and that would equal another pound loss at the end of the week. In the same way, reversing the process would add on those 2 pounds. This may work sometimes but it doesn't happen that way consistently or long term.

If this process were as cut and dry as doing this simple math, we wouldn't have 2/3 of our population that are overweight in the US. We probably would be able to control our weight much more easily. What isn't accounted for is metabolic individuality, chronic disease, autoimmune disease, or other issues that cause metabolic deficiency.  It's not so simple! That is why a functional nutritionist like myself is able to help pinpoint nutritional deficiencies and/or food sensitivities that can cause your body to respond to different caloric intakes and exercise.

There are neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), food addiction,  and hormones such as Leptin and Ghrelin that affect what and how we eat.  Also, when it comes to foods, not all calories are considered equal. 

As Dr. Hyman says in the Blood Sugar Solution, the notion that as long as you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight "is simply dead wrong." But many medical professionals, the food industry, the media, and some conventionally trained nutritionists still follow these outdated and scientifically disproven ideas (Hyman, 2014).  He goes on to explain this calorie thing discussing broccoli and soda.

In a constant, isolated system, 1000 calories of broccoli will provide the same energy as 1000 calories of soda.  But, we are living, breathing, dynamic individuals with VERY individual circumstances and requirements. Food, and more specifically REAL food, interact with our biology that attempts to utilize every bite we put in our mouths. Dr. Hyman goes on to describe what happens after we eat/drink the broccoli/soda.

Let's say you drink a thousand calories worth of soda. It contains about 250 grams of carbohydrates.  This is equivalent to 62.5 teaspoons of sugar. Your gut quickly absorbs this because it is free of fiber, fat, protein, and full of fructose. The glucose spikes your blood sugar which then causes a spike in insulin. This, in turn, causes increased storage of belly fat, increases inflammation, raises triglycerides and lowers HDL, and also messes with men and women's hormones such as testosterone and estrogen/progesterone.

One thousand calories of broccoli have a very different effect on the body.  This is roughly 32 Cups and contains 82 grams of protein, 76 grams of fiber, 193 grams of carbohydrates, and 11 grams of fat.  I don't think anyone would be able or willing to eat that much broccoli in a setting but what would happen if you could? 

There is so much fiber that many of the calories wouldn't get absorbed.  It turns into 29 teaspoons of sugar in 32 CUPS of broccoli. That's not much when you consider that 1 serving of goldfish turns into 5 teaspoons of sugar. Because of the amount of fiber, protein, and some fat, there is virtually no blood sugar or insulin spike, no fat depositing in the liver as with fructose, and no hormonal disruptions.

You would get signals that you are full whereas, with the soda, that happens only temporarily. The broccoli would optimize metabolism, provide vitamins and minerals necessary for reactions to occur, help the liver detoxify chemicals, reduce chances of cancers and heart disease.

Am I suggesting you go whip up 32 cups of broccoli? No! I wanted to illustrate the different foods can make in how you feel and for your overall health. Real food versus frankenfood - not all calories are created equal.

If you are struggling with finding the foods that are right for you and your health, contact me for a consultation and specific meal ideas to get you started on the path to health. 

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