Not all calories are created equal. A calorie represents units of energy. The small calorie or gram calorie is the approximate amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. Our body uses “calories” to function. Calories are the fuel behind every process and system our body is created to do. Even if you sat in your jammies and vegged out in front of the television all day, you still use calories. Your organs need calories to do what they are meant to do on a basic level. You may not use very many calories, but you’d still use some.
Calories are NOT tiny creatures sewing your clothes tighter every night. Food is made up of nutrients and depending upon what kind of nutrients determines how many calories it has and what kind of energy it will give you. For example, a small Dum Dum sucker (the kind you get at the bank window) is 20 calories. All 20 calorie units are sugar calories (carbohydrates). These calories will burn fast and will not give you sustaining energy. They will likely prod your digestion and your hunger signals making your body think you are hungry and needing more energy leading to craving other quick energy producing foods (often times more junk.) We could say that these calories are “empty”. Meaning the return of energy you get from them and the amount of nutrients your get from them is low. I tell my clients that these kinds of foods are “non-beneficials.” They do nothing for you.
One ounce of cashews contain about 155 calories (units of energy.) But, unlike the calories in the Dum Dum sucker, these calories come from several different nutrients. Cashews have essential fatty acids, protein, fiber and some great vitamins and minerals. Each of those nutrients have different roles and properties that contribute to optimum body function. The calories you get from a cashew will give you sustaining energy, keep you feeling satisfied, and will also benefit your body in terms of supplying the nutrients it needs to do it’s job well. Rather than being “empty” or of “no benefit”, I call these kinds of calories “beneficial.” You receive energy and other benefits by consuming this food.
While all food will have calories, you can see that we cannot compare calorie to calorie because our body is meant to run on specific KINDS of calories with specific kinds of nutrients and in specific amounts varying from person to person. Saying all calories are created equal would be like saying all liquids put into your car’s gas tank are created equal. We certainly won’t get far if the 10 gallons of gas you put into your tank is 1/2 gas and 1/2 maple syrup.
These facts are important to keep in mind if you’re “counting calories” to lose weight or get lean. You can lose weight by restricting the amount of calories you take in, but you can also lose muscle and health if you aren’t putting in the RIGHT calories, beneficial calories. Starving your body of nutrients will not only set you back in your long-term weight loss, but also in your overall health. Be sure to make the choice to choose beneficial calories at least 90% of the time and if eaten in proper portions you’ll not only get rid of unneeded weight, but you’ll also become nourished. Nourishment will help get rid of cravings and put your body in right balance. This will contribute to lifestyle health and easy weight maintenance.