Posted January 27, 2013 by Strensa in Health

Are all calories the same? Is a calorie a calorie?

strensa explores is a calorie really a calorie?
strensa explores is a calorie really a calorie?

If you listen to the uniformed majority, the absolute key to weight loss and lowering your body fat percentage is simple, consume less calories than you burn through daily activities and exercise.


It’s a universal truth that has been around for decades and gives dieters a simple way to follow a strict eating regime. Weight loss programmes, many of them raking in millions each year from the consumer, drive this message home by providing a whole host of ways to count calories. You can do it on-line, you are provided with a notebook to keep track of what you eat, and whole industries have spawned out of producing own branded food that has the calorie content, or an arbitrarily designed points system, on the side of the box from which you are about to eat.

Here’s a little secret that might just have you questioning the validity of all the latest fad diets and calorie counting gizmos.

Are you ready?

A calorie IS NOT a calorie. And where it comes from DOES matters.

The basic premise

The concept pushed by advertising companies, that one must merely lower their calorie intake and burn more calories than they consume, is simply not true.

It’s far from that simple.

Calories from carbohydrates, fats and proteins may be equal in terms of their energy content, but the energy required to digest, absorb and metabolise the energy in each is different. In short, the body uses variable amounts of energy to process different nutrients ingested into the human body through food.

Protein requires the most amount of energy to process, followed by carbohydrates and then fats. This essentially means that for an average male, who it is recommended needs 2,500 calories per day, the makeup of his diet, and from where his calories are gleaned, is critical in the weight management process, with a high protein diet extremely beneficial when trying to lose weight or reduce body fat composition. A 2,500 calorie a day diet full of protein is likely to increase weight loss much more effectively than one based on carbohydrates and fats, with a little protein.

This is where things get technical

While the above is true, and provides some explanation of why a high protein diet is best when trying to lose weight, there are a couple of other principles at work too, which you need to be aware of. The science behind them is relatively complex, and if you are interested then we would recommend reading Why Calories Count or some of the work done by Dr. Michael Eades, but for now, we are going to give you the key points in a short list, to make things nice and straightforward.

  1. Protein has the affect of inhibiting the appetite. A person, therefore, who eats a high protein diet, is less likely to snack as they will have a reduced appetite.
  2. Eating fewer calories, no matter where they come from, will, in a very short time, slow down your metabolism. Therefore, consciously reducing you calorie intake by 500 calories per day for example, using the traditional method of calorie counting, will in fact have little benefit over time. As your metabolism slows, your body learns to store fat, which is counterintuitive to your goal of weight loss. It is better to keep a consistent calorie count, but be choosier about where those calories come from, or have one day per week when you binge eat, as a means of kick-starting your metabolism and ensuring that it remains high.
  3. Fibre plays a critical role in the human body. Increased fibre consumption can have a similar impact on the appetite as protein. Thus, when eating your normal calorie intake, a high fibre diet will suppress the appetite.
  4. Eat smaller meals, more often. This is an old adage, but it is unbelievably impactful when it comes to weight loss. For the average male, eating 2,500 calories per day, if the calories are taken in during six meals, the benefits are far more positive in terms of maintaining lower body fat than if they are taken in during three large meals.
  5. We burn more calories in the morning. A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlights that we use more energy in digesting a meal in the morning than at any other time during the day.

Lessons learned: How to lose weight and reduce body fat more effectively

When it comes to losing weight and reducing body fat, don’t be sucked in by counting meaningless calories. Whatever exercise regime you are on, studies estimate that diet can play up to an 80% role in the results you achieve, so it’s important to pay attention to what you’re putting into your body.

So, next time you are doing the weekly shop, stop for a moment and ask yourself where the majority of calories are coming from in your diet. Take another look over the advice we have discussed above and see if you can make some positive changes in your diet, the rewards will be worth the effort. And remember, a calorie is not always a calorie. Eat smarter and the rewards will be greater.