Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. For serious.
Busting the Calorie-is-a-Calorie Myth
The calorie-is-a-calorie myth might be the biggest fallacy in nutrition that keeps us fat, sick, and tired. To explain why this doesn’t work, let’s follow 750 calories of soda and 750 calories of broccoli once they enter your body.
First, soda: A Double Gulp from 7-Eleven contains 750 calories, entirely from 46 teaspoons of sugar. Your gut quickly absorbs the soda’s fiber-free fructose and glucose.
Glucose spikes your blood sugar, starting a domino effect of high insulin and a cascade of hormonal responses that kicks bad biochemistry into gear. High insulin increases belly fat, inflammation, blood pressure, and triglycerides while it lowers HDL, decreases testosterone in men, and contributes to infertility in women.
Insulin also blocks your appetite-control hormone leptin. You become more leptin resistant, so the brain never gets the “I’m full” signal. Instead, your brain thinks you are starving. Your pleasure-based reward center becomes activated, driving you to consume more sugar and fueling your addiction.
Fructose, on the other hand, goes right to your liver, where it starts manufacturing fat. Insulin resistance and chronically elevated blood insulin levels result, driving your body to store everything you eat as dangerous belly fat.
Fructose also contributes to fatty liver, generating more inflammation. Chronic inflammation triggers weight gain and insulin resistance. Fructose also doesn’t send informational feedback to the brain, signaling that a load of calories just hit the body. Nor does it reduce ghrelin, the appetite hormone that is usually reduced when you eat real food.
Next, let’s look at broccoli. Those 750 calories of broccoli make up 21 cups and contain 67 grams of fiber, far more than the average American eats. That amount of broccoli only contains about 1.5 teaspoons of sugar; the rest of the carbohydrates are the low-glycemic, slowly absorbed type found in all non-starchy vegetables.
Now, if you ate those 21 cups of broccoli (highly unlikely!), they contain so much fiber that very few of the calories would actually get absorbed. There’d be no blood sugar or insulin spike, no fatty liver, and no hormonal chaos.
Your stomach would signal your brain that you were full. That addiction reward center in the brain would not become triggered. You’d also get many extra benefits that optimize metabolism, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and boost detoxification.
Broccoli’s phytonutrients (glucosinolates) boost your liver’s ability to detoxify environmental chemicals, and the flavonoid kaempferol is powerfully anti-inflammatory. Broccoli also contains high levels of vitamin C and folate, which protect against cancer and heart disease. The glucosinolates and sulphorophanes in broccoli change the expression of your genes to help balance your sex hormones, reducing breast and other cancers.
So you see, food is more than calories; it is information. Every bite of food you eat broadcasts a set of coded instructions to your body that can create either health or disease.
So what will it be, a Double Gulp or a big bunch of broccoli?
Studies Prove a Calorie is not a Calorie
Science shows calories are not created equal. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found low-protein diets mean you store bad fat around your organs including the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. High-protein diets, on the other hand, add muscle and increase your resting metabolism and muscle mass. Since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, that’s a good thing.
Researchers in this study observed volunteers in a hospital ward for 12 weeks. They controlled everything they ate and did. Everyone overate about 1,000 calories a day, either as protein or carbs.
The low-protein group lost 1.5 pounds of muscle and gained 7.5 pounds of fat. The high protein group gained 6.3 pounds of metabolically active muscle.
Both groups gained weight—understandable considering they consumed too much food—but the high-protein group gained less weight than the low-protein group.
This study shows if you overeat anything, you will gain weight, but it also proves calories are not equal. Some calories will make you store fat. Others will make you store muscle.
Quickly absorbed carbohydrates, which form the basis of America’s and increasingly the world’s diet, are very efficiently turned into belly fat in the body. And that leads to obesity and diabetes, or what I call diabesity.
In America today, 69 percent of us are overweight and over 35 percent of us are obese. If these trends continue, one in three Americans could have Type 2 diabetes by 2050.
Children and adolescents will suffer the most. In less than a decade the rate of pre-diabetes or diabetes in teenagers rose from nine percent to 23 percent. Put another way, almost one in four kids have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
Carbohydrates and protein trigger very different chemical messages in the body independent of calories. Carbs lay down the fat, while protein lays down muscle.
Reduce Belly Fat and Build Muscle? Focus on Protein, not Calories
Reducing belly fat and building muscle become far more than just about the calories. As this and other studies show, where those calories come from matter far more.
Here are a few simple tips to speed up your metabolism and get rid of belly fat.
- Skip the sugar—in all of its forms. Especially liquid calories from any source (soda, juice, alcohol), which store as belly fat. Be on a mission to get high-fructose corn syrup out of your diet, it is especially good at laying down belly fat.
- Ditch the flour—yes, even wheat flour, which converts to sugar. Did you know that two slices of whole wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than two tablespoons of table sugar?
- Start the day with protein—not starch or sugar. Try whole omega-3 eggs, a protein shake, nut butters or even kippers! Skip the bagels, muffins and donuts.
- Have protein with every meal—try nuts like almonds, walnuts or pecans, seeds like pumpkin, chia or hemp or have beans, chicken, or fish.
Somehow we became duped by the idea that all calories are the same. They are not. Hopefully soon popular nutrition advice will catch up with science, then perhaps we can make a dent in the tsunami of obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease coming right at us.
Do you count calories, carbs, fat, or anything else to determine the right foods? Share your plan below or on my Facebook fan page.
Bray GA, Smith SR, de Jonge L, Xie H, Rood J, Martin CK, Most M, Brock C, Mancuso S, Redman LM. Effect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012 Jan 4;307(1):47-55.
Devkota S, Layman DK. Increased ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein shifts the focus of metabolic signaling from skeletal muscle to adipose. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011;8(1):13
Pollock NK, Bundy V, Kanto W, Davis CL, Bernard PJ, Zhu H, Gutin B, Dong Y. Greater fructose consumption is associated with cardiometabolic risk markers and visceral adiposity in adolescents. J Nutr. 2012 Feb;142(2):251-7.
Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tomé D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:21–41.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 May 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
“Study Finds 23 Percent of Teens Have Prediabetes or Diabetes.” Study Finds 23 Percent of Teens Have Prediabetes or Diabetes. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Google Images for Reuse
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