A Calorie Isn't a Calorie
Last time, I mentioned that it matters what kind of calories we eat and this week I wanted to break down why! First, what is a calorie? Technically, a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise 1g water 1°C. So, calories are a measurement of how much energy food provides. When we eat more calories (energy) than we burn off, those calories are excess and will be stored as fat.
Even though overall calorie balance determines our weight, it matters what kinds of calories we eat because our bodies process different types of calories differently. Compare this with exercise. Whether you walk a mile or run a mile, you burn the same amount of calories. But running a mile has better cardiovascular effects and walking is easier on your joints. Just like walking and running have different affects on your body, so do eating different types of calories.
When you eat, your body releases insulin, which is a hormone that tells your cells to use the energy from food. When you eat foods high in added sugar or refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, white flour) it causes a large amount of insulin to be released and a quick rise in blood sugar. This tells your body to store fat. When you eat complex carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, whole grains), protein and healthy fats, your blood sugar stays more stable, which can help with weight maintenance and weight loss.
So, in addition to added sugar and refined grains being empty calories (having no nutritional value), they also encourage weight gain and hinder weight loss. That's why you should have these foods only sometimes. And when you do, you should have them as part of the calories you need for the day and not in addition to.
Kayla Michel MS, RD/LD
Duncan Regional Hospital
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