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The Truth about Calories

Calories Fuel Our Bodies...well not really

A calorie is simply a unit of measurement for heat.  To apply this concept to food scientists used to set food on fire and gauge how well the flaming sample warmed a water bath.  The warmer the water the more calories a food contained.

Today food's calorie count is estimated from its carbohydrate, protein and fat content.  The calorie on a food label is the amount of heat required to raise 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

Here is the problem...our bodies are not steam engines, they run on chemical energy not heat.  Our bodies are fueled by the oxidation of carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Therefore you must look at the CARBOHYDRATES, FATS and PROTEINS in food, not just calories.

Think of those "100-Calorie" pre-packaged snack food, just because they are low in calories does not mean they will help you in your weight loss journey.

All Calories are Created Equal...not exactly

Our fuel comes from carbohydrates, protein and fat and the are handled by the body differently.  So the diet mantra, "Calories In, Calories Out" is a little misleading.  For example, for every 100 calories of carbohydrates you consume your body expends 5 to 10 calories in digestion.  Digesting fats is slightly less, but protein is the champion.  For every 100 calories of protein you consume your body needs 20-30 for digestion!  

If you want to lose weight, make protein a priority at every meal.

A Calorie Ingested is a Calorie Digested...it's not that simple

Just because you've swallowed the food does not mean it will be digested.  It will pass through your stomach, reach your small intestine and some will be adsorbed but 5-10% of calories will slide through unabsorbed.  

Fat digestion is efficient, it easily enters your intestinal walls, animal sources of protein are better absorbed than plant sources (think steak versus tofu) and carbs are processed at different rates.  Glucose and starch (think processed food and white breads, pasta, rice) are rapidly absorbed and fiber (especially insoluble fiber) can block the absorption of calories.

With a very high fiber diet, 60 grams a day (vegetables, whole grains, fruits) you might lose as much as 20% of the calories you consume because the absorption is blocked by the fiber.

So in our bodies a piece of candy and broccoli may have the same number of calories but the fiber int he broccoli ensures the vegetable leaves about two times the amount of calories ingested.

Aim to consume at least 35-40 grams of fiber a day to block some calorie absorption.

Exercise Burns Most of our Calories...not even close

Even the people who seem to exercise all the time burn no more than 30% of their daily calories at the gym.  Most of your calories are burned by the processes that keep you alive.  The calories needed for basic body functions is called your Basal metabolism

For men the process takes about 11 calories per pound (i.e. 200 pound man needs about 2,200 calories a day, even if he sat on the sofa all day).  

We also burn calories from nonexercise activities such as making breakfast, walking up the stairs at work or playing fetch with your dog.  Research has shown the more effort you spend to MOVE your body, even if it is not considered traditional exercise the more calories you will burn.

Take frequent breaks from your desk/couch, take the stairs not the elevator, park your car further away from the store...the more you move your body the more bonus calories you burn.

Low-Calorie Foods Help You Lose Weight...not always

Processed low calorie foods can wreck havoc on your weight loss (remember that blood sugar roller-coaster - Ditch the Diet).  Omitting sugar is perhaps the easiest way to cut calories because all processed foods are loaded with sugar!

There have even been some studies that show that artificial sugars like Sweet-and-Low and aspartame can actually increase your risk of being overweight by 40% - even though they contain NO calories.  How is that possible?  Researchers think that people who eat artificially sweetened items tend to take in more calories, and gained weight.  

There is no doubt calories contribute to weight gain, but people need to focus on the QUALITY of their food!

Avoid artificial sweeteners and load up with real calorie saviors like fruits and vegetables.