Are All Calories the Same?

Italian food collage

 (DGIwire) — Many people believe that when it comes to diet and weight-loss is that a calorie is a calorie.  This theory states that it is not the source of our calories, but the number of calories that is the deciding factor in our health and weight management.  As an example, 100 calories of white bread is no different than 100 calories of bananas and both will have the same physiological effect.  Common sense tells us this is not true.

In 2011 a study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine by a team of nutrition and health experts at Harvard University.  By analyzing the diet and health habits of over 120,000 health professionals (nurses, doctors, dentists & veterinarians) who were observed over a period of between 12-20 years, they came to the conclusion that food choices may play a larger part in weight management than calories consumed.

The average weight gain for participants was 3.35 pounds every 4 years for a total gain of 16.8 pounds over 20 years.  The researchers determined that what you eat makes quite a difference.  Just counting calories won’t matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you are eating. There are good foods and bad foods, and the best advice should be to eat more of the good foods and less of the bad foods.  The belief that it is OK to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat anything you want.

So what are the top bad foods?  You guessed it:  French fries, potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats, potatoes, sweets and desserts, refined grains, fried foods, 100% fruit juice and butter.

“The good foods are the least processed foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy products and quality proteins.  Most of the study participants who lost weight ate an average of 3.1 servings of vegetables every day more than those that gained weight.  Interestingly, weight loss was actually greatest among the people who ate higher fat foods like yogurt and nuts.  This observation seems to also dispel low-fat dieting advice,” according to Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust (BSH 2011).

What about exercise?

The researchers determined that physical activity did show benefits for weight control.   Less exercise equaled more weight gain.  More physical activity equaled less weight gain.  However, they found that the kinds of foods people eat had a greater effect than differences in physical activity.

Both physical activity and diet are important to weight control, but if you are fairly active and ignore diet, you can still gain weight. In the United States physical activity is very low in most cases, but the average diet is even worse.

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