Health & Food

Is a Calorie Really a Calorie?

Yes. A calorie is a calorie. That’s not really what this post is about. I mean, it’s obvious that 100 calories worth of celery is the same amount of calories as 100 calories worth of peanut butter. We all know this. But the real question is; “Does it really make a difference where you get your calories from, an a day to day basis?”. In short; Yes, it does. At least, if you care about staying trim, fit and healthy, it matters.Calorie 1

Source: iStockPhoto

It was recently reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that an analysis of trends since the 1970s found that Americans were consuming more calories from 1971 to 2003, but are actually consuming less calories today (by about 74 calories per day) than in 2003 (to read more details about the analysis read this article). So if we’re actually eating less calories as a nation, why are we still gaining more weight? It just doesn’t make sense, right? Shouldn’t our decreased calorie consumption coincide with a decrease in weight? The article suggests a few things;

  1. People may not have been accurate in their calorie reports(I’ve seen this firsthand, it’s true that people tend to underestimate their calorie consumption. But, I doubt we are any more inaccurate in our estimates now than we were in 2003)
  2. We may be consuming less, but we’re also less active, which sort of “cancels out” any benefit we might see from eating less calories(uhhh, yeah, this one makes sense, we are sitting more and moving less than ever before).
  3. There hasn’t been enough time to allow the decrease in calories to actually “kick in” and have an effect on our nation’s weight (In other words, in a few more years this small decrease in caloric consumption may actually produce a concomitant decrease in obesity….. I say fat chance. Pun intended.)

I think these are all fine points, and certainly may explain this phenomenon somewhat, but from my perspective there is certainly more to the story. Yes, a calorie is a calorie, and yes if we reduce our calories we should theoretically lose weight (all other factors remaining the same), but it’s not quite that simple (come on, you all know someone who has reduced their caloric intake, either slightly or significantly, and still hasn’t lost weight….right?!) I think Mark Bittman explained it well in a March 2012 article for the New York Times. Here is a snippet for you to read.

In other words;

  • If you eat more calorie dense foods(foods that are compact, small, and loaded with calories), you’ll likely eat more calories each day and in a sitting. However, if you eat more low calorie dense foods that are greater volume and less calories (ie: not calorie dense) you are most likely going to take longer to eat, feel more fool, satiated, and therefore most of the time you will eat less calories. So, yes, a calorie is a calorie, but if you eat better calories you are more likely to eat less calories.Calorie 2 I like the idea of eating with the volumetrics concept. Read more about volumetrics (and calorie density) here and here
  • People may be eating less calories, on average, than in 2003, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should (as a nation) be less obese. The sad truth is more people are overweight now than they were in 2003. Not only that, but those who are overweight are more overweight (with higher average BMIs) than in 2003. This means two things; first, it’s going to take more caloric restriction to lose the weight because our bodies try to hold onto fat for dear life.And second, perhaps the fact that we are more overweight and “weight obsessed” now than in 2003 (wouldn’t you agree?) plays a roll in the decrease in caloric consumption. Many more people are on diets now so it’s not a shocker that our average caloric consumption has decreased. And, we all know that most “new age diets” simply don’t work, so there you go!

So what can you do? Choose less of this….Calorie 3

Source: iStock Photo

Liquid calories. This is America’s worst enemy. I believe it.

and this….Calorie 4

Source: iStock Photo

And of course less of these……no, the “MyPlate” logo doesn’t have grains and starches as the entire plate!Calorie 5

And more of these (fruits and veggies, high volume, low calorie!)…..Calorie 6

…..and do more of THIS!Calorie 7

QUESTIONS: Are you surprised that we are eating less calories, yet still not losing weight as a nation? What other reasons can you think of for this “phenomenon”?? Another question is, what’s your favorite high volume, low calorie food? Mine is spinach. Love it. I can make a HUGE SALAD with spinach and it’s so filling, with so few calories. Of course, I always add stuff to my salads, but the base is the spinach and that’s my favorite high volume, low calorie food (other than popcorn, of course, popped by me!).

And of course I can’t end this post without saying something about yesterday’s tragic events in Boston. My heart and prayers are with everyone who was there and everyone affected. Is anyone safe anymore? That’s the real question. This is now the second time in less than a year that I have been approached in the middle of my busy day at the grocery store with a “Did you hear about the shooting/bombing in xyz???”. Seriously. It’s a shame that I even have to think twice whether or not to bring another child into this world for fear of what it’s turning into. Just remember to hug the ones you love today, and everyday. And, cherish every moment.

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Hi, my name is Rebecca Houston and I am a writer. I write about health, healthy food and daily meal plan for various websites.
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