All Calories Are Not Equal

The “energy balance” method of eating is loosely based on the law of thermodynamics: If calories in (what you consume) equals calories out (energy expenditure), your bodyweight will not change. Likewise, burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. There are problems with this approach, though. The first being that all calories are different.

There is more to food than just the energy it provides. For example, 300 calories from vegetables also provides a variety of minerals and vitamins. Whereas 300 calories from blocks of chocolate has little nutritional value other than energy. The body recognises the nutrient value of the vegetables and process them differently to ensure optimal uptake of nutrients. Whereas the chocolate provides energy devoid of nutrients.

The body will use calories to either fuel general metabolic requirements such as walking and breathing, or it will store the energy. Empty calories such as the chocolate are therefore stored, and stored primarily in the form of fat cells. This means that even if your weight doesn’t change when balancing calories in and calories out, your body composition might be changing.

The message here is that the content of the food is what matters, not just it’s caloric value. Refined and processed foods are metabolised differently than real food. Balancing your energy expenditure with calories in from refined and processed foods will still lead to disease and excess weight gain.

Tracking your caloric intake and expenditure may therefore only be beneficial if the quality of the food is good.

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