Are All Calories Equal?

Equality Scale

I keep seeing posts that suggest that a calorie is a calorie. As if consuming 150 calories from a Twinkie or an apple your body will have the same response. When it comes to weight that may be true. BUT the way calories are utilized does seem to depend on content.

Simple carbs will spike sugar and thereby spike insulin. This will cause shifts in sugar which can change fatty acid metabolism AND cause you to hungrier faster. Not to mention that studies also suggest that when you eat those calories makes a difference.

Controlled Research Comparing Calories

The study below looks at how “Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Respiration Is Elevated in Female Cynomolgus Macaques Fed a Western Compared with a Mediterranean Diet”. This study from The Journal of Nutrition is a fascinating look at whether a calorie is just a calorie. The findings give us huge perspective on the macronutrient effects on cellular function.

The problem with human studies is how hard it is to control a diet for a long period of time. This study took 40 monkeys and divided them into 2 groups. One underwent 30 months of a diet resembling the average American with protein coming mainly from animals. The other group did 30 months of diets resembling a Mediterranean diet with protein coming mainly from plants.

Now get this, calories were equal, macros were equal, cholesterol was equal. Very difficult to do this in humans. The difference was the Western Diet group was higher in saturated fat and lower in fiber.

Saturated Fat Leads to Insulin Resistance

According to the people who swear by macro and calories, there should be no difference. However, using very complex measures they demonstrated some interesting findings. The group getting higher saturated fat and less fiber had alterations in the bioenergetics of their mitochondria. This is complex but simply put, the mitochondria became overworked and started backing up. This is part of the hypothesis for development of intramyocellular fat which leads to insulin resistance.

Western Diet Causes Inflammation

As predicted, the group on a western diet did develop more insulin resistance DESPITE equal calories and macros. AND the increase mitochondrial dysfunction leads to increased reactive oxygen species and inflammation. The type of food we eat has an effect on our cellular health above and beyond calories and macronutrients.

Are all calories equal

Study looks at if a calorie is a calorie

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