Is A Calorie Just A Calorie?
In short, the answer is a BIG FAT NO! Why not? Take fat for example. Fat contains roughly 9 calories per gram, whereas as carbohydrates and protein each contain 4 calories per gram. Let's digress a little. Do you know what a calorie is? A calorie is actually a unit of energy used to create heat, i.e. body heat for us, made when we burn that energy. Oh, it has a a fancier, more scientific definition, but for our purposes, a food calorie is a unit of energy we get from food to create energy for every heartbeat, breath, and every other flexing of the muscles. Flex those cannons! So, this leads to the caloric intake and expenditure theory of weight loss, or gain, if you get the balance wrong. The problem so many have faced during attempted weight loss is they have been led to believe that a calorie is just a calorie, that a calorie eaten must be burned or else it is stored and that makes you fat. What most people don't know is that it doesn't really work that way. Our bodies are not based on thermodynamics alone. We are, actually, hormone production factories, running 24/7! Every function and it's opposite function are controlled by these hormones, including.....wait for it....weight gain! And especially FAT gain. No, eating fat does not make you fat. In fact, avoiding dietary fat is what makes a lot of people gain weight. Let's digress a little, again. Have you ever heard the term EFA? It stands for Essential Fatty Acid. Just like EAA's are Essential Amino Acids, which come from broken-down(digested) proteins. Ever heard of an Essential Carbohydrate? No? That's because they don't exist. That's correct, dietary carbohydrate is not essential/necessary for human survival. But what about the brain you say, doesn't the brain require glucose(blood sugar) to function? Why, yes it does, but it doesn't need to come from your diet. The liver will actually use protein and, if necessary, fat to create that small amount of glucose for the brain through a process called Gluconeogenesis. Yes, you will need to memorize this for the quiz at the end. Just kidding. It's an open book test. Seriously though, did you realize that you could, and probably would, live a long healthy life without any carbs? Although, if you are considering a low or no carb diet, I suggest working with a practitioner and monitoring blood sugar and ketones to make sure your liver is adapting properly to this radical new way of eating. HINT: Go to the contact page to schedule an appointment! Shameless plug out of the way, let's go back to the hormones. Many hormones are created from fats. One hormone in particular is regulated by whether you consume fat, protein or carbohydrate. Can anyone guess? If you said Insulin, you win a prize. The prize is the rest of this article! Yay! Anywho, Insulin is the fat storage hormone. Doesn't insulin regulate blood sugar? Yes, if you are still metabolically healthy. If you are insulin resistant, then not so much. What it does do ALL of the time, is take excess blood sugar and store it as body fat. In case everyone hasn't caught on, all carbs break down into sugars, and sugar intake triggers insulin release. So, when a metabolically healthy person eats some carbohydrate, it breaks down into sugar and gets stored as fat for energy, and is easily released later when prolonged high energy demand is required. For someone who is metabolically challenged/insulin resistant, it gets harder and harder for the insulin to stash away the sugar, so they both float around in the blood stream longer creating havoc, like inflammation and glycation. It's a real mess and gets worse and worse the longer it goes on.
Dietary fat does not spike insulin, in fact, it stimulates Leptin. Leptin is another hormone and it creates a feeling of satiety or fullness, making you less hungry and turns off body fat storage. So, it is essentially the opposite of insulin for the extent of our discussion. So, as a macronutrient effect of weight/fat gain or loss, carbs are the opposite of fat in your diet. This is also the opposite effect from what the ad campaigns of decades past have led the population to believe. To find out which fats are best for your body and which ones to avoid, read my previous post titled Good fat vs. bad fat. For more info on how and why this works, may I suggest the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It is a bit of a lengthy read, but well worth it, and for me it clicked on a light bulb in a dark corner of my brain and revealed pieces of the puzzle I couldn't quite grasp before I read it. Stay tuned for more informative and hopefully entertaining posts in the future and be sure to sign up for the newsletter to get the latest updates. Until then, don't forget to Feed Your Chi!