Are all calories created equal?

Are all calories created equal?

A calorie is just a calorie, no matter where it comes from, right?

Wrong, especially when it comes to weight loss.

“It’s a multifaceted puzzle,” explains Amy Paulus, a nurse practitioner who specializes in weight management and bariatric surgery at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “You want your body to do the work of breaking down your food. That’s why whole and high-fiber foods are better, especially if you want to lose weight. It all depends on what type of calorie you’re eating.”

A recent study backs up Paulus’ advice, suggesting that diets higher in whole foods and fiber promote weight loss when compared to diets that are higher in processed foods.

Paulus encourages you to focus on the balance of macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber and water – while also tracking total calorie consumption if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight.

“If you are deficient in any one of the macronutrients, your body doesn’t have what it needs for fuel,” Paulus explains. “This imbalance can cause weight loss to stall or even weight gain.”

Paulus says many people don’t get enough fiber, for example. She recommends getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day.

High calorie, high fat processed foods move fast through your digestive system and are easy for your body to absorb without a lot of real nutrients, which means you get hungry faster,” continues Paulus. “Dietary fiber takes longer to break down, slowing down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. That means you’ll feel full longer, and it’ll be easier to stick to a lower calorie diet.”

Examples of high-fiber foods are berries with edible seeds like raspberries, any fruit with the skin still on it like apples, legumes and nuts like cashews, black beans, and most vegetables. She cautions that some of these foods can be high in carbohydrate content, so they should be considered as part of your individual macronutrient calorie budget.

A good rule of thumb for those looking to lose weight is to adopt a diet lower in carbohydrates, with 35-40% of total calories from healthy sources of carbohydrates. Examples include low-fat dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

“Focus on whole, fresh foods to maximize fiber and weight loss benefits,” says Paulus. “Instead of struggling to figure it out on your own, consider talking to someone who specializes in obesity management or a dietitian. We can help you navigate your personal weight loss journey, find the right macronutrient balance to achieve your goals and troubleshoot with you to understand why you haven’t been successful in counting calories alone.”

Are you trying to watch your weight? Take a free online quiz to learn more about your healthy weight range here.

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About the Author

Kristen Johnson
Kristen Johnson

Kristen Johnson, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing manager with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a speechwriter and staffer on Capitol Hill. She enjoys running marathons, good coffee and exploring Chicago’s many neighborhoods.