Myth Buster – A Calorie Isn’t Just a Calorie

One of the biggest misunderstandings is what is a calorie, and, unfortunately, the misunderstanding that all calories are the same can lead to damaging diets that are calorie-restrictive. Here is the truth about what is a calorie in food and answering the question, once and for all, as to are all calories equal?

Calorie Definition

Although you may think you know what is a calorie, you may be surprised to learn that sugar calories are not the same as calories from fat. In other words, no, not all calories are equal. So, what is a calorie in food? It refers to the amount of energy in food or, more precisely, the measure of heat required to raise a gram of water to 1 degree Celsius.

Addressing the Lie that All Calories Are Equal

The myth is running rampant that the answer to the question “are all calories equal” is yes. But, take 1,000 calories of carrots and compare it to 1,000 calories of deep-fried potato chips and you will likely change your answer. They do not affect your body the same way.

About Sugar Calories

The two primary sugars are fructose and glucose. They weigh the same, but they affect your body differently. For example, all of your body’s tissues can metabolize glucose, while only the liver can metabolize a decent amount of fructose.

Furthermore, the consumption of fructose from added sugars in large amounts (not glucose) can increase insulin resistance and reduce satiety. So, while fructose and glucose are both sugar calories, they do not affect the body the same because not all calories are the same.

What about Calories from Fat?

Another way of answering the question “are all calories equal” is to discuss calories from fat. The metabolic pathways for fat are significantly less efficient than protein calories.

Thus, while fat increases energy expenditure, it does so at a much lower rate than protein. The measurement of this process is called the thermic effect of food. While protein has a thermic effect of only two or three percent, protein is at about 25 percent. Protein requires more energy of the body than does fat.

Concluding Thoughts on What is a Calorie

Ultimately, what is a calorie in food is complex. Sugar calories are not all the same, and we have also shown that calories from fat are not the same as those from protein. They have different effects on everything from hunger to energy expenditure. Questioning myths, understanding the calorie definition, and selecting better foods is more important than simply restricting calories.

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