Are all calories created equal?

I had a little discussion about this with a weight-loss blogger recently, and then coincidentally this article appeared.

So I thought I'd throw it open to discussion, considering many of you are counting calories on the 12 week programme.

11 Replies

  • A quick skim of this article suggests it is based on a study using milkshakes ie drinks, and drinks which were essentially 'spiked' at that, so I am not surprised it had a subsequent impact. All calories are created equal but all calories are not consumed in the same way (very easy to neck more calories and quickly without feeling the same psychological benefits if you are just glugging it down cf having to chomp your way through it). Nor absorbed in the same way/time... with subsequent effects on when you next feel hungry and on mood.

  • The control group also had drinks.

  • had to think of an analogy here to get my head around it. a calorie is a unit of measurement so in that sense it makes no difference if the calorie is from carrot cake or lettuce. On the other hand what they seem to be talking about in this article is the substance from which that calorie is derived. So to use the analogy a mile is a mile whichever way you measure it but a mile could be a mile of plain motorway or a mile of beautiful country lanes with uneven surfaces and sharp turns. Although it might be much more pleasureable driving down the country lanes eventually the toll of driving around these day after day will not do your car much good whereas a car engine can do miles and miles on a motorway (providing it's driven properly of course) without any problem at all. So sugary carb foods are your country lanes and healthy non-processed foods your motorways. I think :)

  • I think one thing to remember is that many things in the world of nutrition are borrowed from other fields.

    So in simple terms a calorie is a calorie however what it is created by and how YOUR body process it may be different.

    We are interested (I think) in the effect it has on the human body. :)

    Then there is the nit picking observation which calorie?

    The name calorie is used for two units of energy.

    The small calorie or gram calorie (symbol: cal) is the approximate amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.[1]

    The large calorie, kilogram calorie, dietary calorie, nutritionist's calorie or food calorie (symbol: Cal, equiv: kcal), which is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. The large calorie is thus equal to 1000 small calories or one kilocalorie (symbol: kcal).[1]

    Is calorie a good measure:

  • I like that. To borrow from your analogy, your body fat is a motorway fuel, provided you are able to access the motorway, which requires the removal of toll barriers (lowering of insulin).

  • Interestingly once the fat is contained in our body the process and measurement is more complicated.

    The motorway and country lane analogy has some merit but applies better to a joule.

    Let me explain - to move a newton one meter - does not care how fast or with what fuel. The body however has different energy systems - one for long slow steady activities others for more explosive work and how efficient we are mechanically or chemically varied too.

    So I don't believe there is anything bad about country lanes but travelling a long long distance using them will take longer - fray your nerves and probably be more wear and tear on the clutch and brakes than motorway driving. But in weight management terms the quality of the fuel - the existing body fat level - and desired body fat level all need to be considered.

    I don't know if loads of walking, many hours of yoga - less high intensity training a very strict menu is actually "best" because (thankfully) each person is unique and a "perfect" exercise and diet regime for one person maybe another's living hell and MOST significantly not have the same results.


    The joule (/'d?u?l/ or sometimes /'d?a?l/), symbol J, is a derived unit of energy, work, or amount of heat in the International System of Units.[1] It is equal to the energy expended (or work done) in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one meter

  • Thank you for drawing attention to this article Concerned. I sped-read it (want to go out and mow the lawn on this beautirul day), and totally agree. It seems highly plausible, and I have read and heard on more than one occasion that some foods (blueberries, raspberries etc.) use up more energy (calories) to digest than they contain! I am all for the low GI "diets" (although as you say, many of us tend to calorie count; I do this out of habit and also calorie-counting makes me feel in control) - but am very aware of raising blood sugar levels - and am currently trying to reduce my sugar intake even in fructose.. As the article summarises:

    "these so-called high-glycemic foods influence the brain in a way that might drive some people to overeat."

  • The fact that the study was based on manipulating calorie intake using drinks means it may not be generalisable to overall diet (except maybe it has something to say about those milkshake diet replacements)

  • Yes, you're right. When you've had a study like this you can form another hypothesis, and try that out.

    There are other studies that have been done on rats for example, where they were fed the same amount of calories and the same percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, with the glycaemic load being different. The high GI rats gained weight, whereas the low GI rats lost weight, and improved their body composition.

    People aren't rats of course, that's one reason why sometimes it's a good idea to try things for yourself.

  • There is some research that is looking in to this subject. A good summary I found is on

    Chapter Three - Dietary Strategies to Increase Satiety

    Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, Volume 69, 2013, Pages 105-182

    Candida J. Rebello, Ann G. Liu, Frank L. Greenway, Nikhil V. Dhurandhar

    Unfortunately, the article is not available without subscription. However, if you have access to the British Library or Wellcome Trust, you can access the article without charge.

    There is research around how protein is more satiating than carbs, or how energy density (kcal/gm) affects our feeling of fullness, and hence how much we eat later. For example, look at Volumetrics by Barbara Rolls. She talks about how we tend to eat a similar volume of food every day, so adding water (which is 0 cals) to foods might affect satiety.

    If you analyse the Weightwatchers formula (, you will see that proteins have ~20% fewer points than carbs even though they are the same calories per gm (4kcal/gm). Would love for someone to confirm my calculations though .

    Personally, I find milk more filling calorie for calorie than, say, a slice of bread. But anecdotal evidence is not universal.

  • Worth remembering that the 4 and 9 calorie figures are averages and that different sources of calories require differing amounts of energy to liberate the energy (calories).

    Protein takes more work than sugars for the body to liberate.

    A potential side effect they are hinting at is the speed at which the blood sugar may rise.

    From an objective point of view strange that corn syrup is named the low-glycemic item is not named.

    >> But on one occasion, the shakes were made with high-glycemic corn syrup; on the other, a source of low-glycemic carbohydrates was used.

    Turns out to be "The low GI meal corn-starch as a carbohydrate."

    Also for the study to be on 12 individuals obese individuals (all men) and repeated twice seems a little lightweight and hardly rigorous.

    Then I looked at the actual description - "12 overweight or obese men aged 18–35" so the article seems to be misquoting the trail

    Design: With the use of a randomized, blinded, crossover design, 12 overweight or obese men aged 18–35 y consumed high- and low-GI meals controlled for calories, macronutrients, and palatability on 2 occasions.

    Inclusion criteria

    Males age 18 to 35 years

    BMI less than or equal to 25 for age and gender

    So the study itself and the clinical trial listing seem to be unclear if the 12 male subjects were less than or equal to 25 "normal" or overweight or obese.

    Can anyone confirm my investigations or have I misread or misunderstood something?

    Thanks for reading

    PS you really should browse the 497 and counting comments on the article. I will try to link from it too here

    Highlight for me

    rockstarkateCalifornia ..... I can't take any "scientific" article seriously that lumps "carbs" into one category. There's a big difference between a spoonful of sugar and a head of broccoli, but they're both "carbs". June 27, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.

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