Here at Big 5, we’re often asked whether all calories are created equal. While this question may sound simple, the answer is a little more complicated. Yes, the properties of all calories are equal, at least on paper. However, each body breaks down different calories in food uniquely, meaning they have a different effect on each individual.
As well as being an energy source, fats can also slow digestion, deliver important vitamins to the body, which in-turn provides integral properties for our cells to build off of.
All fats in our diet provide approximately 9 calories per gram; however, some fats are obviously better than others. Artificial trans fats can lead to increased inflammation and heart disease, compared to polyunsaturated omega-3 fats that have protective, anti-inflammatory properties.
The primary role of protein is to not only slow our digestion, but to also regulate and create new cells. Protein plays the largest and most significant role during childhood, early adulthood and also during pregnancy, as this is when the body is growing and adding new tissues.
All proteins comprise approximately 4 calories per gram, however this can vary depending on the quality. If your protein is of a higher quality (fish, eggs) then it can help to reduce your appetite, while assisting in muscle recovery and repair. However, if your protein is comprised of lower quality materials (burger meat), then it may be loaded with amino acids, which have been linked to insulin resistance and related metabolic diseases.
Out of all calories in food, carbohydrates are the most complex. This is mostly due to the face that our bodies use various carbohydrates (fibre, sugar, starch and so on) in various ways.
The brain, liver and muscles predominantly use carbohydrates as a quick source of energy, providing four calories per gram. However, there are varying degrees of healthiness to various carbohydrates, which depends mostly on its quality.
Fibre is considered a high quality carbohydrate, as its properties slow digestion and allow you to feel fuller for longer, all while moderating the absorption of other nutrients. For this reason, high quality carbohydrates require little processing, compared to lower quality carbohydrates, which lack fibre and can add empty calories to our diet.
As evident, the calorie from a carbohydrate is not the same as one from a fat or protein. Not all calories are created equal. Each individual processes a differing degree of absorption and digestion, it is important to follow this simple rule of thumb: that majority of your calorie count should come from minimally processed foods. This is because the quality of what we consume, determines the quality of calories that we consume, which cannot only impact our weight, but our overall health and well being.