Is a Calorie JUST a Calorie?

Have you even been told that to lose weight you just need to move more and eat less? That a calorie is a calorie regardless of where it comes from? Due to the overwhelming response of our last blog where Loreen explored the cycle of under eating and over training we decided to dig a little deeper on the issue of weight loss. Now I know I am going against the grain here with a lot of my peers, but I do not believe a calorie is a calorie regardless of where it comes from. I believe we need to consider the type and quality of the food we put into our bodies.

Excuse me while I nerd out for a minute and explain biochemistry of how food breaks down in the body. Each of the 3 macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – break down quite differently.

Carbohydrates provides your brain and muscles with their preferred fuel. This macronutrient is absorbed faster than the other two macronutrients as it begins breaking down in the mouth and finishes in the stomach as its smallest unit – glucose. Glucose is then absorbed into the blood stream where it provides immediate energy to working cells (heart, lungs, liver, etc). The remaining carbohydrates are first stored in the muscle and liver tissue as glycogen. Glycogen stores are your primary energy source for high intensity sports and strength-based activities. The remainder is stored as fat. This is where quality becomes important. As carbohydrates, the ‘good’ kind are found in vegetables, fruit, single grains (buckwheat, rice, quinoa, millet) lentils and dairy products. Carbohydrates also include some ‘not so great’ sources such as pop, chips, candy, baked goods etc. Focusing on higher quality carbohydrates helps to slow the release of glucose into the blood, and reduce the amount of insulin released, ultimately reducing the amount of excessive carbohydrates being converted into fat.

Another thing to note on the topic of better carbohydrate choices is Fibre. Fibre is beneficial in any diet as it helps to regulate how quickly our foods are digested promoting longer satisfaction after a meal, while reducing food cravings. Choosing whole grain and whole foods (versus fruit or vegetable juices) provides dietary fibre in your meals.

Protein is essential for the building and maintaining of muscle tissue. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate – so it can be challenging to feel satiated. So when you consume protein alongside fats and carbohydrates, it helps to reduce cravings by slowing down the digestion process. This helps achieve a more consistent energy level during the day.

Protein is the only nutrient that can do all the roles listed above, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on it to provide your body with energy. Insufficient fat and carbohydrate intake forces the body to rely on protein as a fuel source which prevents it from fulfilling its designated roles and maintaining the body’s protein stores. Unlike carbohydrates and fat, there is no storage form of protein in the body, so if you over-consume it, the remainder of goes to fat storage. The research is unclear about the exact amount, but does show that 30g of protein three times per day can increase protein synthesis.

Best protein choices include: Lean cuts of meat, poultry or fish, Eggs, milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, Beans, lentils, paneer, hummus, nuts, seeds, all natural nut butters

Fats are a concentrated form of energy. Fats help the body use protein and carbohydrates more efficiently and provide essential fatty acids (especially omega-3 fats – key for the brain and nervous system). Consuming healthy fats with your meals helps you feel full by slowing down digestion and controlling hunger by keeping your energy levels steady.

The reason we go over the different parts of macronutrients in the body is to demonstrate the different roles they have in the body. No macronutrient is more important than the other, the essential piece is how they all work together. With balanced meals and snacks the foods works synergistically to help you feel full and satisfied and better control your blood sugar and insulin levels thus allowing you to have less cravings and better blood sugar control ultimately resulting in improved body composition. Quality comes from getting food with as little processing as possible to help provide more fiber, and other micronutrients needed for the body to function at its best. You may have even noticed for yourself that eating 2000 calories per day from whole foods feels very different then 2000 calories per day form highly processed restaurant and snack food. The calories may be the same, but how you feel won’t be… and you deserve to feel your best.

To start improving the quality of your diet:

  1. Choose foods in there whole form with single ingredients. These are often found in the perimeter of the grocery store.
  2. Read the ingredients on any packages you buy – if you cannot visualize what the ingredients look like, do you really think your body knows what to do with it? Simple is best when it comes to nutrition. Pick whole foods with little processing that you enjoy.
  3. Enjoy water infused with fresh fruit versus juice, pop or sugar-free beverages
  4. Enjoy coffee and herbal teas with a little bit of milk or cream instead of flavoured and specialty coffees/teas.

Check out our recipe section and newsletter for some excellent recipe suggestions!

October 15, 2014
Revive Wellness