4 Simple Reasons Why All Calories Are Not Created Equal

Institute for Responsible Nutrition
by Institute for Responsible Nutrition
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4 Simple Reasons Why All Calories Are Not Created Equal

The food industry vigorously promotes the myth “a calorie is a calorie”, however, based on these four simple facts, we know this is not true:

1. Fiber. You eat 160 calories in almonds, but only absorb 130—because some fiber calories pass through without metabolizing. Vegetables, greens, beans and whole grains are all high in fiber.

2. Protein. It takes twice as much energy to metabolize protein as carbs, so protein spends more calories in processing. And, protein makes you feel full longer.

3. Fat. All fats are 9 calories per gram. But omega-3 fats are heart-healthy and will save your life. Trans-fats will clog your arteries and kill you. Eat more fish, nuts, avocados, olive oil and eggs and avoid most processed foods when possible.

4. Added Sugar. Calories from added sugar are different from other calories, and are jeopardizing health worldwide. And yes that includes honey, syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Excess added sugar leads to diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease, unrelated to its calories. One simple way to cut back? Avoid processed foods and sodas.

The irrefutable link between diabetes and added sugar
Robert Lustig, MD and colleagues Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD, Paula Yoffe and Nancy Hills asked: “What in the world’s food supply explains diabetes rates, country-by-country, over the last decade?” They melded numerous databases worldwide measuring food availability and diabetes prevalence.

Only changes in sugar availability explained changes in diabetes prevalence worldwide; nothing else mattered. We assessed total calories from protein, fat, fiber, natural sugar (from fruit) and added sugar (from sugar crops, sweeteners and soda).

They found that total caloric availability was unrelated to diabetes prevalence; for every extra 150 calories per day, diabetes prevalence rose by only 0.1 percent. But if those 150 calories were from added sugar, diabetes prevalence rose 11-fold, by 1.1 percent.

Yet the processed food industry is defending itself by saying, “All calories count.” They want you to believe that a calorie is a calorie, and that all calories are created equal. While they may try to sew the seeds of doubt, they cannot refute the science.

In their study, countries where sugar availability fell showed decreases in type 2 diabetes. The UK and Australia have already laid down stricter guidelines for sugar consumption. Americans are growing wary of added sugar and the food industry. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee has now put a limit on added sugar at 10% of calories. The cost of inaction is a future where one-in-three Americans have diabetes. Politicians must step up to establish programs that make eating healthy more than a personal goal—it must become a national priority.

For more on why all calories are not created equal, check out Ask The Dietitian: Is a Calorie a Calorie?

About the Author

Institute for Responsible Nutrition
Institute for Responsible Nutrition

The Institute for Responsible Nutrition (IRN) exists to shape the way food is produced, marketed and distributed so we can end food-related illness and promote good health. Visit the IRN website for a wealth of science-based nutrition resources that focus on real food.