Are all calories created equal?

You may or may not have heard about the experiment performed by Mark Haub, Ph.D, the Kansas State University professor who lost 27 lbs. after eating only Twinkies, Ho-ho’s, and other “junk” food for two straight months last year. If it is possible to lose weight while eating these foods, does it really matter which foods our calories come from if the total calories are the same? Or do types of foods matter when trying to achieve weight loss?
Dr. Haub’s experiment does suggest that total calories, even those coming from highly processed, nutritionally-empty foods, are the main factor when it comes to weight loss. When you drastically reduce your calorie intake, you will lose weight regardless of nutrition content.
Although total calories determine the extent of weight loss, there is some recent evidence to suggest that the body “burns” whole foods better than processed foods, such as those that Dr. Haub consumed for two months. For example, one study compared energy use in subjects consuming the selected whole foods (multi-grain bread and cheddar) compared to subjects consuming processed foods (white bread and processed cheese product). The authors found that calories in the processed foods were not as readily burned for energy as those from the whole foods. This implies that processed foods are more likely to contribute to weight gain when consumed in excess. When consumed in equivalent calorie amounts, our bodies can more easily and more efficiently digest and use the energy from whole foods.
Another obvious consideration when it comes to food choices is nutritional content. Whole foods, such as whole grain bread, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products are considered nutrient-dense. This means that the calories we get from them contain more vitamins and minerals than their processed counterparts. In other words, we can obtain more vitamins from 100 calories of carrots than from 100 calories of Doritos. Emphasizing whole foods may therefore prevent vitamin and mineral inadequacies that may occur with an otherwise poor diet.
The mechanical preparation of processed foods often causes loss of many health-promoting components of food, such as fiber, natural antioxidants, protein, and vitamins/minerals. These losses may also lead to slow satiation with resulting over-eating behaviors that lead to weight gain. These findings all suggest that a diet containing mostly nutrient-dense foods will prevent weight gain, provide your body with necessary nutrition, and hold you over to the next meal.
If you are interested in learning more about nutrition counseling sessions with a registered dietitian at Baystate Noble Hospital, please call 413-568-2811 ex: 5671 for more information.

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