Ah yes... the ole calorie debate.
Yes, we could go REAL in depth with this topic, bringing in studies to support all different sides to this debate. I LOVE using research and science to synthesize ideas and approaches to.. well.. everything in life. But sometimes, we just need to step back and just use some rational thinking.
The problem with a lot of studies is that many are biased in some way or another. Research and science are not suppose to be biased, but it's an inevitable circumstance that restricts a thorough, comprehensive understanding of most things health related. Especially when considering how astronomically complex the body is and how nutrition/movement/toxins/thoughts/stress/genetics can all affect this system. Not to mention, the influence from big agriculture, big pharma, government, our medical system, or any outside interest in doing studies, can have on many different levels. We'll save that for a different time though ;)
I don't know about you, but I grew up thinking "a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie." It did NOT matter where those calories came from... it just mattered how much you were taking in. After all, food is just energy, right? It all ends up just breaking down in your gut, and your body uses it as energy, and then it comes out the other end. If you want to gain weight, eat more. If you want to lose weight, exercise more and eat less. Simple as that.
annnnnnd this is the TRAP our mindset's get into.
This is the trap I was obsessed with for years. Uber conscious of all the calories I was taking in. Feeling bad when I thought I went 'over' my limit for the day. Ultimately creating a negative, and borderline neurotic relationship with food.
This is an over oversimplified way of understanding and approaching our nutrition and health; misleading us to think our bodies are just a math equation. When we're not getting the results we want or health is wavering, we start to internalize the toxic thought that we're broken. We're not good enough. Not motivated enough. We'll never be able to lose weight/feel good/get back to... etc etc.
The bad news? You've been LIED to, when it comes to this topic.
The good news? You've been lied to.... so stop taking that advice and start living by the health principles that will actually make sense to YOU, and govern our overall health and well-being.
To put things straight: it's an absolute MYTH that you can consume all the toxic garbage you want, and be healthy, just as long as you don't consume too many calories. Pizza, donuts, beer, candy, fast food... whatever. Shove it down and you're good, as long as you're counting those calories.
You're like... duh. That's probably not the best way to go.
And you'd be right.
We all KNOW better, because it makes sense when we put it into simple terms. In many cases, your instincts are going to be far more beneficial than trusting the mainstream news.
ALL CALORIES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
First consider what your body REQUIRES for optimal functioning and health:
Macronutrients: Carbs, proteins, Fats.
Micronutrients: Vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other active physiological components. These are essential compounds that are commonly overlooked or completely ignored when it comes to teaching people what true nutrition is all about. They're bountiful in living foods, and are lacking/absent in processed, dead foods.
What is a 'CALORIE' anyway?
The energy needed to heat 1g of water by 1 degree celsius.
This was the first way that 'nutrition' was able to be measured with the invention of the calorimeter, and subsequent use of the calorimeter for food-starting in the 1850's. It wasn't until the 1920's we could finally measure and understand something else about nutrition; hormones. With the discovery of insulin. The impact of hormones was not fully realized/appreciated/addressed until recent times. Not to mention the impact of the gut biome, as well as other metabolic factors.
2 'Fun' sized Snickers: 180 calories. VS. 2 Large Whole Eggs: ~180 calories
>What will nourish your body?
>Even if you had 3 eggs... you'll take in more calories.. but what's going to be healthier for you?
>Would you be better off having Snickers everyday, or eggs?
Sorry I even asked... Of course most of you know the answer. But the same logic applies to other foods as well.
QUALITY MATTERS MORE
Nutrients in pasture-raised eggs:
High in: omega-3 fatty acids, all essential amino acids, Vitamins A, D, E, B2-5-9-12. Choline. Antioxidants. Iron. Phosphorus. Iodine. Selenium. Etc.
Eggs are a nutrient powerhouse. Packed with things every system of your body can utilize to function and heal optimally. The same goes for other real, whole, nature-derived foods. Packed with nutrients that synergistically work together to deliver those nutrients to the cells of your body.
Foods have different effects on the body. Your gut, immune system, blood sugar, cardiovascular system, nervous system, liver, endocrine system (hormones)... all the way down to our genetic expression and how our genes are influenced by the nutrients we are taking in on a daily basis.
As you can see, every bite impacts not just every system of the body, but every one of our 70 trillion cells. Simply focusing on calories or macronutrient consumption cannot account for the incalculable processes that occur in the body that require proper nutrient supply. Although it is impressive that our bodies are able to take highly processed junk food, and turn it into viable energy and building blocks... but that only lasts up until a certain point. Our bodies will function at a much better capacity when fueled with the right resources.
Take various carbohydrates for example:
White, processed bread VS. organic blueberries.
Both are considered carbohydrates.
Both have very different effects on your body.
White bread will raise your blood glucose substantially more (higher glycemic load) than berries. Your insulin levels and insulin receptors/sensitivity will be influenced to a greater degree. And the cascade of intra and intercellular reactions that occur due to higher insulin levels will follow. Our bodies are meant to do this, but not sustained on a daily basis, for years on end.
Although the advertising for various breads and grains is quite convincing; "high in fiber, protein, fortified with vitamins... etc". These are quite misleading claims. As the milk industry does, and most processed food companies. Which shouldn't surprise you, as, it is an 'industry'. There is no 'broccoli' industry (funded by large corporations and backed by government subsidies), but they would have a lot better nutritional stance.
You can get PLENTY of fiber and protein from other sources. And fortified vitamins and nutrients are rarely healthy, and are sometimes quite toxic to the body (like 'folic acid' vs. the bioavailable version of B9- folate).
Hormones are also affected differently by different foods. Ghrelin, Leptin, growth hormone, cortisol, etc. are all affected by different foods.
Neurotransmitters also experience the same influence.
Toxins are found throughout our food system, processed or natural. It's no secret toxins are laced within most processed foods, but are also found in natural foods as well. Bread for example, and particularly conventional bread, contains high amounts of toxins from various herbicides and insecticides; most notably, Roundup. It's used on the wheat crops for these purposes, but is also sprayed on the final wheat as a desiccant, further adding to the toxic load. These toxic chemicals have been shown to have various detrimental effects to the body; affecting every system of the body to some degree.
Microbiome is affects as you're consuming a known antibiotic.
The gut lining and gap junctions along your intestinal tract are compromised, allowing for easier passage of foreign compounds into your blood stream. A major stimulant to the immune system.
Blood brain barrier is affected similarly to the gut lining.
Glyphosate/Roundup/other insecticides and herbicides are known 'chelators', meaning they bind to minerals in the plants and soil, which are then transported away from the topsoil and plant. Leaving the food nutrient deprived, and the soil depleted from essential nutrients for healthy plants and sustainable crops.
There are endless things to consider when consuming these toxic chemicals. It's interesting to research-- regardless if you care to dive deeper or not, you're better off consuming only organic products.
There are many other examples when it comes to the quality of animal products your consuming, fats, processed foods, etc etc. Just anchor yourself in the idea that quality matters. And by making some simple swaps, you can dramatically improve your overall state of well-being.
Fructose and Glucose
Gram for gram, these two 'sugars' pack the same energy (calorie) content.
Fructose is only processed in the liver. Whereas glucose can be utilized by all cells of the body.
"Consuming a lot of fructose can cause insulin resistance, abdominal fat gain, increased triglycerides, blood sugar and small, dense LDL compared to the exact same number of calories from glucose."
Fructose also stimulates different areas of the brain, leading to reduced feelings of satiety (fullness) --- WHILE increasing ghrelin, a hormone that promotes hunger sensations. A recipe for disaster.
Not to say you should avoid fruit, as fruit contains plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that all offset the effect of the fructose. Treating fruit like a dessert is typically the best approach, and leaning towards low glycemic fruits is also a good practice in keeping blood sugars stable.
Different foods, have different metabolic pathways and processes in the body. Each of these pathways require different resources and energy requirements.
Thermic effects from a macronutrient standpoint:
So for every 100 calories of protein consumed, 25-30 of those would be utilized as energy.
Over the course of a day, high protein diets have been shown to 'burn' an additional ~100 calories. This isn't enough of a reason to run out and strictly follow a high protein diet, as there are other potential negative effects of doing so... but it just illustrates how all calories are not created equal.
If you are going by what's on a food label... the information on there can be wildly inaccurate. Which, is legally allowed. There are certain additives and ingredients that are not required to be listed. Take wine for example, there have been tests that have shown over 60+ additional 'things' in the wine that is not listed on the label. The amounts listed on ingredient labels can be as much as 20% off!!
How can it be even remotely possible to know exactly how many calories you 'need' everyday? Everyday is... different, for most of us. Your metabolic rate can change daily. And there are dozens, and dozens of factors that can influence your metabolic rate.
You can never be EXACT when it comes to measuring things anyway, especially when things are cooked, other ingredients are added... there are a ton of factors that can influence nutrient content, making it impossible to know exactly what you're putting in. Is it good to be conscious of what you're putting in your body? Sure! Is it ok to measure that if you care to? Ya, why not-go for it. Just avoid being crazily obsessed with it.
Getting out of the TRAP
I get it. It's easy to focus on. It makes sense that if you want to cut weight, you need to cut calories.
Unfortunately, nutrition is not that simple. Weightloss is not that simple.
Fortunately, by implementing real nutrition principles that support the body and it's needs for proper fuel and nutrition... you're going to feel great, look great, and create long lasting lifestyle changes that will convey sustainable health. The side effect will be losing those pounds that you were hoping to shed.
It's a mindset flip.
Understanding that your health, and nutrition, are not based on math equations.
Adopting a whole foods based diet will inevitably convey positive results to your overall health; with plenty of organic, fresh vegetables, with high quality animal and fish proteins, healthy fats, plenty of good quality water, some organic fruit, nuts and seeds, raw dairy (if you choose to consume dairy), and cut out the processed, toxic junk.
YES, there is a time and place to focus on calories and macronutrient intake (carbs, fats, proteins). I think there are valuable things that can come from doing so. By tracking these factors, amongst other things, we take responsibility and accountability for what we're putting in our bodies. This can be eye opening, humbling, and teach us valuable lessons overall.
When trying to lose weight, accounting for these factors can be useful. They're just not the most important aspect of NUTRITION. And for the vast majority of people... is not a sustainable practice. The whole, "Well if it fits in your MACROS... then yer good," type of jargon is just mind numbing and blowing all at the same time. Will people lose weight doing that? Sure! Will they gain a new appreciation for food? Maybe. Do they revert back to what they were doing previously and rebound hard? Typically. Drive others around them mad with their obsessiveness to exactly how many grams of carbs or fat they're taking in? Absolutely.
I understand the principle of thermodynamics and the concept of 'calories in, calories out', and yes, to some degree that can have some validity. But it's just a piece of the puzzle. We gotta do better to educate the masses on true nutrition, and true health if we want people to truly make transformations and improve the individuals and families within our communities.
References and Resources
Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents
"Are fat and cholesterol the dietary “bad guys”?
A study funded by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) from the 1960s found that cholesterol and fat were the main contributors to weight gain and responsible for an increased risk for coronary heart disease. These results kick-started the country’s decades-long consumption of added sugar. With fat removed, food lost taste and appeal, so manufacturers added sugar to combat this. The country’s intake of sugar and processed carbohydrates went up, while our intake of fat went down. Dr. David Ludwig, a professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says “Overall, these processed carbohydrates are worse than the fats they replaced.”
The JAMA review from September found that the doctors involved with the study were in fact paid by the SRF. Their research was tainted due to conflict of interest. The SRF — and thus the doctors paid by the SRF — directly benefited from the results of this 1960s study, and they profited tremendously from the uptick in sugar sales, while consumers made health decisions on the basis of questionable information."
Egg info, and good info on the benefits of the various nutrients in eggs.
History of the Calorie in Nutrition
James L. Hargrove
The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 12, December 2006, Pages 2957–2961, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.12.2957
Glycemic Index for 60+ Foods
Even 'Healthline' is covering this..
Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women
Thermic effect of food: Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord
. 2002 Sep;26 Suppl 2:S12-7. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802123.
Pathways to obesity
Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women
23 Studies on Low Carb and Low Fat Diets — Time to Retire the Fad
Am J Clin Nutr . 2013 Sep;98(3):641-7. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.064113. Epub 2013 Jun 26.
Effects of dietary glycemic index on brain regions related to reward and craving in men
"This study served people milkshakes identical in every respect except that one had high-GI and the other low-GI carbs. The high-GI milkshake caused increased hunger and cravings compared to the low-GI shake."