Are all calories the same?

Are all calories the same?

Eating the proper amount of calories to remain within an appropriate weight range is part of overall health but making smart food choices is also important in improving general wellbeing. Calories from different sources have various effects (both good and bad) on overal health. Maximizing intake of healthy foods while eliminating unhealthy ones yelids beneifts beyond simple weight control.

Calorie Balance

Managing weight requires you to control calorie intake. First estimate how many calories your body burns each day: calorie calculator. Next, monitor your calorie intake. The type of calories you consume is largely irrelavent when it comes to weight management. The effects on body weight are the same whether you eat 2,000 calories of junk or 2,000 calories of healthy food.

Good vs. Bad Calories

Our body gets calories from three main sources; fats, carbohydrates and proteins. While one calorie from a healthy food provides the same amount of energy as one calorie from an unhealthy food, different types of calories have different effects on overall health. Whether you’re trying to gain, lose or maintain your weight, you need to maximize your intake of healthy calories while avoiding unhealthy ones.


There are three main types of fats; saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Saturated and trans fats are known as the unhealthy or bad kind while unsaturated fats known as the healthy or good ones.

Saturated and trans fats raise cholesterol levels and increase therisk of developing heart disease. Sources of saturated fats include animal products such as milk, butter, cheese and meat. Sources of trans fats include any food made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (check the ingredients list). Unsaturated fats lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of developing heart disease. Sources of unsaturated fats include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and seafood.


Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Lately, they’ve gotten some bad publicity. There is nothing wrong with carbs. Carbs don’t make you gain weight, excessive calories do. Just as there are good and bad fats, there are also good and bad carbs. Carbs are made up of sugar molecules. The more sugar molecules are linked together, the more complex the carb becomes. There are two main types of carbs: simple and complex.

Simple carbs are unhealthy. They are digested and absorbed very quickly leaving you hungry soon after eating them. This increases your overall calorie intake causing unwanted weight gain. Sources of simple carbs include fruit juices, sodas, baked goods (doughnuts, muffins, cookies) and energy drinks. Llimit your intake of simple carbs to before, during and after a workout.

Complex carbs are healthy. They are digested and absorbed very slowly keeping you full and preventing cravings. This slow digestion lowers calorie intake and aids your weight loss goals. Sources of complex carbs include legumes, vegetables, brown rice and 100% whole grain products (bread, pasta).


Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are some amino acids that the body can make, and others that it can’t. If the body can make the amino acid, it is called non-essential. If it can’t make the amino acid, it is called essential. There are two types of protein; complete and incomplete. If a protein contains all of the essential amino acids, it is complete. If it lacks one or more of the essential amino acids, it is called an incomplete protein.

The body uses proteins to build tissue including muscle. To build and repair tissue, your body needs access to all of the essential amino acids. Unfortunately, complete proteins are mainly found in unhealthy foods such as meat and dairy products which are high in saturated fats.

Try to get your protein from sources that are low in saturated fat such as soy, seafood, low-fat dairy and egg whites. Incomplete proteins are those lacking one or more of the essential amino acids. Incomplete protein are not useless. If incomplete proteins come from a wide variety of foods (nuts, seeds, grains, legumes), the body they body wll still have access to all of the essential amino acids. Vegans and vegetarians can build muscle.

The Bottom Line

Are all calories the same? Yes and no. They are the same in the sense that all calories, no matter the source, provide the same amount of energy to the body. You can get fat by eating an excessive amount of healthy calories just as you can lose weight by eating a restricted amount of unhealthy calories. Though the number of calories you eat controls how much you weigh, they will not necessarily contribute to your long term health. Eating the appropriate amount of healthy calories improves overall health and promotes an appropriate body weight.

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