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Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Calories is a Calorie but a Calorie Isn't a Calorie

There seems to always be an ongoing debate on whether or not a calorie is or isn't just a calorie. One school of thought argues all that matters is total calorie intake and it doesn't matter what the make up of those calories are, as calories are just calories.
The opposed view is that calories are not just calories; as calories derived from sugar elicit a drastically different response within the body than calories derived from fat and therefore they believe a calorie is NOT just a calorie.

So who is right? Well, in my opinion both are correct. In the truest sense a calorie is always going to be equal to a calorie as a calorie is just a unit of energy, heat to be exact.  However, when we ingest calories, our bodies are dynamic systems made of very complex hormonal, physiological and metabolic inter workings that do not always respond the same way to different sources of food.

I like to use the comparison of money. Fifty cents is always going to be equal to fifty cents. However, fifty cents worth of pennies looks a whole lot different than fifty cents worth of nickels, or dimes.

Just as 50 calories of from sugar is technically the same amount of energy as 50 calories from fat however they are going to provoke different responses within the body, just ask a diabetic.

But didn't I say that both theories were correct? In a sense, they are. Weight management will always come down to overall energy balance. Meaning at the end of the day did you eat more calories than you burned or were you in a caloric deficit? Yet, that's not all of the story. The way the body responds to different "types" of calories may determine different hormonal patterns or fluctuations around feedings which may make it harder or easier to loose fat, build muscle or provide fuel for a marathon. Our body uses fuels differently which is why for most people it's important to eat a balanced diet including differing amounts of fats, carbohydrates and protein, depending on your goals.  It may also be beneficial to enhance your metabolic flexibility in order to improve your body's ability to utilize fuels more efficiently.

In addition, you need to keep your overall calorie intake in check or you will likely be adding on the pounds before you realize it.  So is a calorie just a calorie? Yes and No.

Pay attention to your state of energy balance but also choose optimal ratios of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to assist you with your specific dietary goals.
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