I’m always amazed when I see “experts” on TV claiming that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.” Really? If that were true, then I could eat 3,000 calories a day of pure fiber and not budge the scale needle (whose scale still has a needle?) …or 3000 calories per day of pure alcohol and tip the scales in the exact same fashion. Truth be told, I’d probably end up in a coffin shortly after either situation. You see, neither alcohol or fiber provide the glucose (blood sugar) that’s necessary for your brain to function. (brain function is a good thing)
Now, if switching up the types of calories in your diet could take away life and render you dead weight, regardless of a quantity change, doesn’t it stand to reason that the same done correctly could add life, bringing you closer to your ideal weight? (run-on award goes here). It definitely can. Even if you didn’t care about getting healthier, changing the quality of your calories without touching the quantity can still help you lose weight.
Let’s start with the fiber I mentioned previously. As you know from every cereal box marketing message with even the smell of whole grain, it’s very good for you, cleaning house for your digestive system and helping keep your blood lipid profile in check. It also aids in curbing your appetite. One thing is doesn’t do though, is convert to blood sugar. And guess what, as a carbohydrate that doesn’t convert to blood sugar, it doesn’t get stored in the muscles, doesn’t overflow the liver, and doesn’t get converted to fat. But just as the recently birthed “Net Carb Quantity” label on protein bars has taught you, fiber still gets pegged with 4 calories per gram. So what’s my point in all this rambling? If someone were maintaining weight while eating just 2 grams of fiber per day and upped it to 30g, simply replacing existing other calories, they’d start to lose weight.
How ’bout protein? It’s another “secret” nutrient proving the “calorie is a calorie” theorem wrong. You see, the body doesn’t like to make glucose from protein, not the protein coming through your mouth anyway. Let me interject this here: The body will breakdown muscle protein when it needs energy. A quick glance at any competitive marathoner who’s struggling to eat enough will reveal that. If the brain needs energy and can’t find enough from sugar and fat, it turns to a sort of cannibalism, eating it’s own flesh. But…but….that’s muscle protein. The body doesn’t like to make glucose from dietary protein. It’s more difficult and takes longer compared to carbohydrates, which is why you should never let carbs get below 100g per day. Your brain and body need at least some quick fuel. If you’ve ever tried to work with someone on the aggressive phase of the Atkin’s Diet, you know what I mean. They are usually at least a half a brick short of a load, and the truck usually shows up a moment after it should have been there. (no offense if this has been your chosen path. At least you were looking for a path!) The body would rather use protein for cellular support and tissue repair…especially if you are training hard like you should be. Protein, like fiber, also helps to balance blood sugar, keeping you off the energy roller coaster and away from quick-fix sweets. Finally, remember the thermic effect of foods, which speaks to the fact that nutrients use energy simply to break themselves down after consumption. Protein burns twice as many calories as carbohydrates in the digestion process alone.
Take-home lesson: start getting 35% of your daily calories from protein and begin consuming 25 grams of fiber per day. You’ll soon find out that “a calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie.”