Understanding Why a Calorie is Not Just a Calorie

Leading diet trends, such as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), allow you  to eat your favorite foods  as long your total intake falls within the assigned calories, carbs, fats, and protein. The biggest problem is that it is difficult to stay within  these daily requirements, especially due to the high level of availability of  processed foods such as baked goods, candy, and soda compared to  whole foods. Eventually, you end  up overeating and not getting your recommended daily requirements, causing health issues in the long run.

Assorted donuts on a pastel blue background

What does 300 calories really mean?

It’s important to realize that  a 300-calorie donut is not the same as eating 300 calories worth of fruit and vegetables, despite the famous calorie is always a calorie claim.

Understanding the difference between whole foods and processed foods is crucial.  Additionally , learning the difference between  100 calories of whole  foods and  100 calories of processed foods is crucial to achieving your wellness and fitness goals.

Woman with Healthy and Unhealthy Food. Difficult choice. Overweight Concept

Whole foods vs. processed foods

The difference between whole foods and processed foods is that whole foods  have one main ingredient. Fruits, vegetables, and , meats  are a few examples of whole foods. Whole  foods come along with a ton of benefits, including their  high fiber content, providing essential vitamins and minerals, aiding in regulating blood sugar, reducing diabetes, heart disease, and cholesterol. Processed foods have more than one  ingredient and usually contain preservatives, dyes, bad fats (saturated, trans, etc. ), additional sugars and chemicals . Energy dense (high in calories), processed foods are considered “empty” calories because they provided little nutritional value.

To see the difference between whole and processed foods, you can compare a baked potato compared to pre-packaged mashed potatoes.

Here are the ingredients list on the Hungry Jack Instant Mashed Potatoes box:

POTATO FLAKES (SODIUM BISULFITE, BHA AND CITRIC ACID ADDED TO PROTECT COLOR AND FLAVOR), CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: MONOGLYCERIDES, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, NATURAL FLAVOR, SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, BUTTEROIL.  (Note: hydrogenated oil is trans fat.)

According to Mayo Clinic:
“Trans fat both raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (“good”) cholesterol. A high LDL cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL cholesterol level increases your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women.”

Tape measure with nutrition facts

Although all calories have the same amount of energy (1 calorie=4184 Joules), there is concrete evidence supporting the fact that  a calorie is not simply a calorie. Whole foods and processed foods do have different macronutrient ranges and this has an effect on the hormones that control hunger and eating behavior. Some main factors that affect macronutrient values and their effect on hunger hormones  include the simple sugars (fructose and glucose) and the glycemic index.

Even though both are  simple sugars, what makes glucose different from fructose is that it can be metabolized by all of the body’s tissues whereas fructose is limited to only being metabolized by the  liver. Another example that separates glucose calories from fructose calories is due to ghrelin (hunger hormone), which increases when you’re  hungry and decreases after eating. One study shows that fructose leads to higher ghrelin levels (feeling more hungry) than glucose. This also shows how fructose doesn’t stimulate satiety centers in the brain the same way as glucose. This leads to reduced satiety.

 

View from above the table of people eating

 

Conclusion

You’re more likely to stay hungry with foods that have fructose and a high consumption can result in the abdominal fat gain, increased triglycerides, and insulin resistance.

Processed foods are often loaded with refined carbs, which come along with a ton of negative health effects: expedite aging,  spike blood sugar, etc. When we consume sugary snacks, our bodies undergo “blood sugar roller coaster syndrome,”  a simpler way of explaining why we overindulge in high-carb snacks because of cravings.

In conclusion, strive to eat whole foods to maximize your nutrient intake, and if desired lose weight or build muscle. If food sources aren’t providing you with enough nutrients to optimize your health, try WellPath nutritional solutions – take a survey to see your solution: a customized shake powder and set of vitamins tailored to your goals and needs.

About Chioma Ozuzu

Chioma is a guest writer on The Path Editorial Team. A graduate of Trinity College, she also works with the WellPath team as a Operations and Fulfillment Associate. An avid lifter, she writes about her experiences in her pursuit of strength training. Her favorite things include Jack Russell Terriers, deadlifts, and photography. You may read her blog here.