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Why Not All Calories Are Created Equal

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“An analysis of 175 countries showed that when you look for the cause of type 2 diabetes, the total number of calories you consume is irrelevant. It’s the specific calories that count. When people ate 150 calories more every day, the rate of diabetes went up 0.1 per cent. But if those 150 calories came from a can of fizzy drink, the rate went up 1.1 per cent. Added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories”[1] Robert Lustig

The above quote from Professor Lustig couldn’t be any more true. All calories are not created equal. It is the types of foods that matter. If you eat 90 calories from a banana this is not going to be the same as eating 90 calories from chocolate. The banana is going to provide you with more nutrients, while containing no refined sugars, saturated fats or preservatives. The chocolate contains all of these.

Some believe that counting calories is the way to go in terms of weight loss and preventing disease, and there are definitely quite a few fad diets out there that support this. You should really be looking at the source of your calories and practice more mindful eating. Where did your food come from?  Is it highly processed or has it come directly from nature? Is it laden with chemicals and preservatives? Does it contain refined sugars or trans fats? These are all questions we should be asking ourselves about our food. Simply counting calories MIGHT make you lose some weight but will you be healthy on the inside? Probably not, and the sad news is you usually don’t sustain the weight loss nor do you necessarily lose fat.  More often than not you lose muscle, and not fat when you are eating too little, especially if they are empty calories and worse still  because your body is stressed, the type of food you are eating activates fat storage, so you also end up with dangerous internal visceral fat, despite “weight” loss.

Meal companies are definitely trying to make a name for themselves by promoting “low calorie” convenient frozen meals that will aid in weight loss. In reality you would be better off by eating more calories but from different sources (like real nutrient dense and healthy food). Weight loss (in fat and centimetres) can happen just from switching to healthy and wholesome foods, no matter whether you are consuming more calories or not. For more info on this, check out our recent blog post where we compare the healthiness of different ready-made meals.

A great real life example that highlights just how different calories can be is a study done by Damon Gameau. He embarked on a two month experiment where he was to consume 40 tsp of sugar a day (the average for an Australian adult). His results were outstanding. He went from eating 2300 calories/day from vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy to eating still 2300 calories a day but sourced from vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy and 40 tsp of sugar that will hidden in apparently healthy foods (like yoghurt, breakfast cereal, fruit juices, muesli bars etc.) These were his results:

1.     His liver health decreased dramatically

2.     His liver and blood were laden with fat

3.     He gained nearly 10kg

4.     He put on 10cm of fat around his waist (the dangerous visceral fat)

5.     His moods were greatly affected and he would often crash mid-afternoon with no energy2

To put it in short terms, he was on his way to developing fatty liver, type II diabetes and heart disease.   It only took a month to dramatically change his health for the worse… and all it took was hidden sugar in processed food.

This all happened to him just by eating so called ‘healthy foods’. Foods that we wouldn’t even imagine to be high in sugar. It’s scary how much more so people who eat a diet of predominately junk food items and sweets are at risk of these diseases and side affects are.

Now we start to see why our population has a 2 in 3 adult obesity rate.

What can you do about it? Start paying attention to the foods you are eating and where they come from. As much as you can shop for whole food and cook at home.  If you’re stuck for time and you live in Queensland, and you are looking for healthy convenient solutions, you could give “Healthy Meals to Your Door” a go.  Meals are prepared fresh for delivery to you, without adding harmful “badditives” to your food.


[1] Lustig, R. (2012). Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar. Fourth Estate.

[2] Gameau, D. (2015). That Sugar Book. Pan Macmillan Australia.

Lisa Cutforth

Lisa Cutforth

Lisa Cutforth is a nutritionist, huge foodie, and owner (plus chef!) of Wholesomeness.

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