For a long time, I’ve whined – loudly – that a calorie is not a calorie, and I don’t care how many people with alphabet soup behind their name try to tell me otherwise. It just isn’t so.

Seems like maybe the message is getting attention:

A calorie is just a calorie, right? So just dig in! from


But experts like Jonny Bowden, a certified nutritionist and author of Living Low Carb, (Sterling, 2010) insist that all calories are most certainly not created equal. As proof, he points to studies like this 2009 Swedish investigation where volunteers snacked on candy or peanuts to the tune of about 20 extra calories per each half pound of body weight. For example, someone weighing 150 pounds would overindulge by eating a gut busting 1,300 calories a day.After two weeks, you might expect that both groups were popping the buttons on their pants but this was the case with just the sweet eaters. The peanut snackers did gain a small amount of weight but only about a third of what the candy eaters gained and only the candy group showed an increase in waist circumference, cholesterol and overall blood fats.

“The reason for this is that the simple carbohydrate calories found in candy kept goosing the levels of the hormone insulin,” Bowden explains. “Insulin signals sharp increases in blood sugar and enhances the storage of body fat, so when it’s constantly elevated you’re primed for weight gain.”

Bowden says that, because peanuts contain virtually no carbohydrates, they don’t trigger the same effect on insulin and the body doesn’t rush to pack on the pounds. Even more interesting is that peanut eating group alone experienced a significant rise in their resting metabolism. This could indicate that the fats and proteins from the nuts rev up the body’s ability to burn calories which might also help suppress weight gain.

Researcher Richard Feinman, a professor of biochemistry at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, notes that insulin sensitivity impacts how you experience hunger as well. “It’s a well established fact that eating protein increases satiety and if you feel fuller on fewer calories then you are going to eat less,” he points out.

Numerous recent studies have established that dieters do initially lose more weight when they eat the same number of calories but fewer carbs and more protein. What’s more they seem to do it without ill health effects. Even after two years, a 2010 Temple University study reported that those who eat a diet higher in protein had blood fat profiles and other cardiovascular markers that were just as healthy as those who stuck with the traditionally recommended low fat, high fiber diet.

Additionally, Feinman says there is also a small but very real and meaningful effect in how you digest, absorb and metabolize the energy in different types of nutrients — and it’s greater for proteins than it is for carbs.

“For the same number of calories, you add fewer from protein to the body because they get burned during the digestion process,” says Feinman.

What irritates Feinman, Bowden and others who agree with their line of thinking, is that the ADA and most mainstream nutritional organizations refuse to acknowledge that the composition of your diet and not just the calorie count can impact your waistline, even though there’s plenty of evidence to back up these claims. [source]

To many, that point about “fewer carbs and more protein” might sound like “Oh, you mean I’ve got to get on Atkins?!” To that I say, no… and to me, that’s the problem with a lot of nutrition science. To put someone on a diet means to change their eating habits. But, what differed? What kind of carb is the person no longer eating? Refined carbs from french fries and white breads? Wheat bread? The two consist of very different kinds of ingredients (for starters, white bread is full of sugar), and that needs to be noted. That lack of consideration (or, rather, the lack of information detailed in the article) annoys me to no end. Details matter.

A body cannot thrive on cheez-twisterz. A body cannot thrive on double-freaking-downs. A body cannot operate optimally on poor nutrition, and a body that cannot operate optimally will experience difficulty with efforts to lose weight. The quality of the nutrition is absolutely determined by not only the quality of the calorie, but its origins as well. I don’t understand why this is not base level common sense, but then again I suppose most scientists haven’t experimented with this philosophy with their own bodies like a lot of us who are losing weight and trying to keep it off.

The problem with the mentality that says “the quality of calories doesn’t matter, it’s just the quantity!!!” is the fact that its advantageous to a ginormous food industry that doesn’t want the quality of its product called into question. It’s no surprise that the largest factions of nutrition science (which I have huge problems with, personally) are the ones also aligned with the USDA (and their ridiculous food pyramid) among other entities that seek to refute any claims that the quality of the product matters. Take this gem, from the article:

“While I don’t disagree that the body may not process all calories the same in theory, in practical terms it means very little to the average person,” he says. “There really isn’t much you can do with this information that will help you manage your weight. Your best — and healthiest — strategy is still to eat variety of foods and cut back on total calories.” [source]

Flag on the play. Seriously.

I hope you realize how far-reaching this debate is. Sure, on an individual level, we can process this information as proof that we need to be better stewards of our kitchens and seek to improve the foods we eat… but it’s about more than us as individuals, too. As long as we continue to devalue the claim that the quality and kind of calorie is more important than monitoring the quantity of calories… there is no reason for the government (or anyone) to take action to improve the access to calories of better quality for us all. The very thing that we need to thrive successfully will continue to be seen as a luxury, only for the things that simply keep us “belly-full” to continue to harm us.

I’m a cynic. I’m not sorry about it, either. I don’t believe this conversation will ever change… because for the conversation to change means that the policy would have to change, and there’s too much money to be lost if change happens. Oh well… until then, it’ll just be me and my broccoli.