Are all calories the same? Well, the answer is yes and no.
When it comes to weight loss, calories are king, and it is important you achieve a calorie deficit. To create a calorie deficit, we look at calories in vs calories out – i.e., we want to burn more calories than we are eating. As 63% of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, it is important to create a better understanding around this topic!1https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/national-child-measurement-programme
So, when it comes to weight loss, yes, a calorie is a calorie. However, simply counting calories does not consider the health, suitability, or quality of your diet. Energise-wise, calories are equal. Nutrition-wise and looking at the effect on your body, calories are not created equal.
Looking at specific food examples, 100 calories from eggs is not equal to 100 calories from a fizzy drink. Eggs are a nutrient-dense food, that offer protein and healthy fats, along with vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. In contrast, fizzy drinks are high in sugar and preservatives and don’t offer any nutritional value.
We should also take satiety into account, i.e., how full a food makes you feel. Eggs will leave you feeling fuller compared to the equivalent calories from a fizzy drink. The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a method of ranking carbohydrate foods based on the rate at which they raise your blood glucose levels.2https://www.diabetes.ie/living-with-diabetes/living-with-type-2/food-diabetes/14750-2/ It compares everything to pure glucose, which has a rating of 100. Foods that are digested at a fast rate will quickly raise blood glucose levels and are therefore given a high value on the GI scale. A medium or low GI value is given to foods that cause a more gradual effect on blood glucose levels.3https://www.diabetes.ie/living-with-diabetes/living-with-type-2/food-diabetes/14750-2/ Food with a GI value over 70 is considered high, 56-69 is considered medium, and 55 or lower is ideal.
This is important when it comes to choosing your sources of calories, as lower GI foods will make you feel fuller for longer. Whereas foods with a high GI can affect mood and trigger cravings. Increased cravings will often lead to increased food (and calorie) consumption and therefore cause weight gain.
If we take a common fizzy drink such as Fanta, which has a GI of 68 – we know this will raise blood glucose levels a lot quicker than chickpeas, which have a GI of 28.4https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods Going back to our eggs example, their low carbohydrate content automatically puts them as a low glycaemic index food5https://www.livestrong.com/article/422218-glycemic-index-of-eggs/, with some studies giving them a GI score of zero.6https://www.livestrong.com/article/422218-glycemic-index-of-eggs/7https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318625#whole-grains Opt for low GI foods including quinoa, chickpeas, and lentils, to avoid the food cravings and negative effects that come with rapidly increased blood glucose levels!
Furthermore, choosing the “right foods” is also important for processes and conversions involved in gut health! For example, eating eggs provides us with a source of tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin (which makes you happy) and melatonin (which helps you sleep). Choosing unhealthy foods such as fizzy drinks, often provides “empty calories” i.e., calories void of any nutritional benefit. Eating poorly will also prevent you from getting the nutrients you need for health and can change the composition of your gut leaving it unable to digest properly or create the nutrients you need to function.
So, whilst calories can be compared in terms of energy value, the bottom line is there are more important factors to consider. Different sources of calories produce significantly different effects on hormones, hunger, satiety, energy, and health. When trying to achieve a calorie deficit to lose weight – counting calories is one option. However, simply making better food choices, will likely lead to consumption of fewer calories and more nutrients, minerals, and vitamins.
Check out our recipes for some colourful, calorie-friendly, options that will offer your body heaps of nutrition!