Not all calories are created equal

Not all calories are created equal

It wasn’t too long ago that the Food and Drug Administration passed a new law requiring all chain restaurants, movie theaters and pizza parlors across the country to post calorie counts on their menus to help combat the country’s biggest epidemic – obesity.

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that not all calories are created equal. Instead, making small, consistent changes to the types of protein and carbohydrate-rich foods may help weight-loss efforts.

“A lot of people still think you need to avoid fat to lose weight,” senior researcher Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian said in a news release. “I worry that counting calories is the new low fat.”

The more than 16-year study that tracked 120,000 men and women found that the glycemic load – eating refined grains, starches and sugars – resulted in weight gain. Researchers said glycemic load measures both the amount of carbohydrates in the diet and the quality of those carbohydrates.

Each 50-unit increase in a person’s daily glycemic load (the equivalent of two bagels) was tied to an extra pound gained over four years, according to the study.

The study also found several other key factors when looking at the relationship between proteins and weight gain:

  • Increasing red meat and processed meats caused weight gain.
  • Increasing yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts were strongly associated with weight loss in someone’s diet.
  • Increasing other dairy products, including full-fat cheese, whole milk and low-fat milk, did not cause weight gain or weight loss.

“Our study adds to growing new research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention,” Mozaffarian said. “We should not only emphasize specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts, and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches, and sugars in order to prevent weight gain.”

Dr. Daniel Wool, bariatric surgeon at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill., agrees that the study has merit and people should focus more on fiber rich grains and proteins to help keep them full.

“The key is moderation and a balanced diet. Think about switching out your fries with a salad the next time you order a burger. Better yet, get a burger without the bun,” says Dr. Wool. “Keep in mind exercise is still very important to burn excess calories. Keep your heart in shape and help improve your mindset.”

Related Posts



  1. Rosemary Mueller
    Rosemary Mueller, MPH, RD, LDN April 28, 2015 at 11:28 am · Reply

    Thank you for this interesting study. The balance of macronutrients in the diet is of importance, and this study further suggests there may be additional factors supporting satiety and its role in permanent weight management. Here at Advocate Weight Management, we provide help for those struggling with their weight. Our programs incorporate some of these same principles. For more information, patients can contact us at 847 990-5770 or email us at

  2. The Paleo/Atkins diet crowd have their own research than meat is good—so who are we lay folk supposed to believe???

Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.