The Nutrition Myth that Keeps Us Fat, Sick & Tired.

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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: Calories aren’t Equal

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.

Want to 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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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Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues.
Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.

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anonymous Oct 8, 2015 12:15am

I started this nutritional cleanse almost 90 days ago and have lost 30lbs. My doctor always said a calorie is a calorie. Now I know more than him. If you feed your body pure and excellent nutrients it will cleanout the toxic fat.

anonymous Oct 6, 2015 10:01pm

Thanks so much for this article. My almost twelve year old daughter and I have recently begun to change our diet, mainly due to weight concerns.
I’ve told her that inactivity and high fructose corn syrup are the biggest reasons for our belly fat and have made a game of finding the evil corn syrup on packages of food we used to eat. This, in turn , has led to our newest challenge – testing different recipes to replace our favorite packaged foods with healthier alternatives.

anonymous Oct 6, 2015 9:17pm

"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."

Lol. No. That's not how it works.

Also, nuts are a good source of fat; not protein.

anonymous Oct 6, 2015 2:55pm

The study you reference does not support the claims made in the article

anonymous Jul 16, 2015 4:16am

"Both groups gained weight—understandable considering they consumed too much food—but the high-protein group gained less weight than the low-protein group."


What the journal article you reference actually says: "Overeating produced significantly less weight gain in the low protein diet group (3.16 kg; 95% CI, 1.88-4.44 kg) compared with the normal protein diet group (6.05 kg; 95% CI, 4.84-7.26 kg) or the high protein diet group (6.51 kg; 95% CI, 5.23-7.79 kg) (P = .002)."

anonymous Jul 15, 2015 7:01pm

Nice article. Can you clarify:
Do you consider raw honey to be sugar?
Do you consider fruits (apples, grapes,cherries, raisins) to be sugar?
Do buckwheat bread or whole grain breads like spelt convert to sugar?
Do nuts (almond,walnut, peacan) make you fat?


anonymous May 17, 2015 2:13pm

Great article,

This is exactly the reason why people should be fairly careful with the "if it fits your macros" mentality, a calorie is not a calorie, nor is a carb a carb.

Eating 200 carbohydrates from sugar will have a profoundly different effect compared to eating 200 carbohydrates from starch or fiber.

anonymous May 17, 2015 2:12pm

Great article,

This is exactly the reason why people should be fairly careful with the “if it fits your macros” mentality, a calorie is not a calorie, nor is a carb a carb.

Eating 200 carbohydrates from sugar will have a profoundly different effect compared to eating 200 carbohydrates from starch or fiber.

anonymous Apr 28, 2015 1:12am

A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment.
There’s no doubt that that you should write more on this issue, it might not
be a taboo matter but usually people do not discuss such
topics. To the next! Kind regards!!

anonymous Apr 27, 2015 5:24am

It’s a great and helpful article. Thank you 🙂

anonymous Apr 26, 2015 10:56pm

I also like to start my day with fruits, feels the best!

anonymous Apr 25, 2015 1:08pm

Generally good information for the general public and people that have not really dug into understanding what they are eating, and why! But each body can be quite different. At 14 y/o I began retraining my tastes to healthy eating as I felt that pizza, fried foods, canned veggies etc. did not feel like good fuels for my body. I often did the recommended protein and no sugars for breakfast, the results were hypoglycemia episodes, I burn sugar like it is jet fuel. I was tested many times for diabetes and blood evidence of hypoglycemia, no on the first, borderline on the second, every time. Even as my eating became "cleaner" and cleaner I got more and more problems with my digestion. When I was about 35 y/o a very experienced auyervedic doctor took one look at my eating habits and digestive questions and said, "the first thing you eat each morning should be fruit, this will prepare your stomach acids for what follows." That one change worked for me, nausea was reduced, bloating, etc. I had many other health challenges unrelated to food, but that single thing I have noticed over the more than decade since, every time helps stabilize my blood sugar levels for the day and whatever other digestive issues I may have (from heavy metal complications to cervical and scoliosis organ nerve complications affecting illeocecal and hiatal function) are reduced by following his simple advice. But, in auyerveda not all bodies are considered the same, so his advice would likely be different for a different dosha (body type). I am a Pitta type commonly known in the west as a mesomorph, in case anyone else wants to try eating a piece of fruit first thing:)

anonymous Apr 12, 2015 6:08am

What do you think of this article:

anonymous Mar 14, 2015 5:02am

Excellent piece – backed up in its entirety and including the tobacco-industry-like tactics by the sugar industry in the US in an excellent (entertaining, funny, terrifying) film just out (March 2015) by Australian film maker and actor Damon Gameau

anonymous Feb 20, 2015 6:08am

I don’t see why this is a big deal….we all should have learned this as like preschoolers….of course there is going to be more benefit from food that man did not INVENT but occurs NATURALLY

    anonymous Apr 10, 2015 2:09pm

    Yup…seems pretty common sense to me. It's sad that people have to read articles like this for the lightbulb to go off…

anonymous Feb 4, 2015 9:51pm

The claim comparing stats from the Journal of the American Medical Association which is linked to the article is misleading and definitely doesn't support the claims in the article. The conclusion made by the study was clear: "Among persons living in a controlled setting, calories alone account for the increase in fat". It is true that the study showed an increase in muscle mass and an increase in metabolic potential in the higher protein conditions, but the weight gain in the low-protein condition over the time allotted was 3.16kg, whereas the high-protein condition showed an increase of more than 6.5kg. That's more than double. In a high-protein diet, you'll gain twice as much weight. The extra weight is predominantly muscle weight, but you still gain all the fat that the low-protein diet had. "Body fat increased similarly in all 3 protein diet groups and represented 50% to more than 90% of the excess stored calories."

Clickbait articles like these just spread more ignorance. Echoing Chris's statement, if you misquote the science when you actually cite it, why should anyone give credence to the uncited claims?

anonymous Feb 4, 2015 4:07pm

I stopped reading once you got into the whole fructose non-sense. I think you may want to revisit your texts on this one because there’s no evidence fructose creates a fatty liver. Thats utter nonsense, and you should know that. Fructose, like galactose, is converted to glucose and either stored as glycogen, used for energy, or converted to fat and stored throughout the body.

You also cite research that doesn’t actually support your claims. Pulling just from the abstract of the JAMA paper:

“Among persons living in a controlled setting, calories alone account for the increase in fat; protein affected energy expenditure and storage of lean body mass, but not body fat storage.” That doesn’t support what you say.

If you’ve gotten this much wrong, how can we trust anything else?

anonymous Feb 3, 2015 7:03am

anonymous Feb 1, 2015 10:59am

I belive Raw Honney can't be classified as any sugar.

Also, Fake sugar, as isolated sugar is, become toxic byproduct in our body that the body stores away with fat to keep it of inner organs and skeleton.

IT is 300 types of sugar in nature, and they are all good if we dont mess with them.

Protein is amino acids, eating amino acid rich food is the way to go, and that may even be fruits, and berry, and many different plant.

Sugars can be made of amino acids.

The body loves Good fats, and can use it even for storing away toxic fats and other toxics (like toxic sugar that steals nutrition and energy)

So, it is good to eat clean food, and be aware and conscious about what food is and how it works, cause thats the way our bodies works too..

What ever food you eat and love, make a pure and clean choice, even milk chocolate,ice cream, burgers and gummy bears can be made clean, natural and healthy, even raw – all organic and even homemade! (this is the point.)

The rawer and more unprocessed the food is, the better it is, and even better, eating With consciousness, like chewing and digestion yoga.

We are simply food, as we become aware about it, we can become more conscious, and healthy 🙂

Thanks for a great article!

anonymous Feb 1, 2015 10:41am

Being healthy and losing weight are not synonyms and you are treating them like they are. A calorie is a calorie is not a myth. Switching out 200 calories of soda for 200 calories of broccoli won't make a difference if the rest of your day remains the same. In terms of losing weight, a calorie is a calorie. But not all calories are created equal, the question is how do you maintain satiation while eating less calories. The answer is normally to eat healthier foods that are more filling. But if I were to eat 2000 calories of hamburgers and soda, it would make no difference in the rate at which I lost weight than 2000 calories of chicken breast, rice, and broccoli. Although I may be malnourished, I will be losing weight.

Eating healthy involves a lot of things and this article is just scratching the surface of healthy fats, lean proteins, soluble vs insoluble fiber, vitamins and minerals, macro breakdown, micro breakdowns. But the key to losing weight is consuming less energy than you expend. It's simple math, if you burn 2200 calories a day… you will lose weight if you eat less than that. Its not keeping "us" fat. Individual people who are not eating less are keeping themselves fat.

anonymous Jan 31, 2015 1:37pm

I was told drinking warm lemon water was the best way to start your day. So which is better, lemon water or protein?

anonymous Jan 31, 2015 1:34pm

I was told drinking warm lemon water is the best way to start the day. So which is it, protein or lemon water?

    anonymous Feb 3, 2015 5:05am

    Try the lemon water first thing in the morning, one hour before ingesting food. It's a reset button for your liver and digestive system. I have lost body fat and gotten rid of joint pain and spring time allergies. It takes a few months though. Be patient. (-; Lemon water alkalizes your body and provides an environment where cancer cells can not grow.
    For added benefits, I've slowly added a bit of organic ginger and turmeric juice (a few drops with a garlic crusher ) to the lemon water.

anonymous Jan 31, 2015 1:00pm

You forgot to mention that “detoxification” is also a myth. Unless your liver doesn’t work well, there’s no need to detoxify your body and mystical-magical ingredients won’t make it any better.

anonymous Jan 18, 2015 6:48pm

Wow fantastic article! I had the fructose debate with a person studying natural medicine and preventable disease and he has bought into believing fructose is alright, which is clearly isn’t!

This was well sourced, well documented, and great comparisons and is to the point! Thank you for this great resource and your passion Mark, I admire your dedication and commitment and thank you for living on purpose!:)

Love and gratitude~ Jannine

anonymous Jan 6, 2015 1:34pm

Some good points in this article but most of it is a load of "you know what". There is definitely some over exaggeration and fear mongering going on but that's what you gotta do to be popular and have people share your posts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having some of these foods that he says to avoid. This is why M.D.'s should stick to being M.D.'s and not stepping into the nutrition playing field.

    anonymous Jan 31, 2015 2:43pm

    Hear, hear!!

    anonymous Feb 1, 2015 12:16am

    I have to agree… to say that a slice of bread raises your blood sugar more than a tablespoon of sugar is, at the very least questionable. What study showed this please? I hate it when "learned" people like doctors decide that just because they have an MD behind their name suddenly they are an expert in all things related to the body. It just ain't so! Now, do I think that consuming large amounts of sugar is bad? Of course! But show me the research that supports the rest of your article and I'll be happy to say I was wrong. Til then, stick to what you know… hmmmm, well, what you think you know anyway.

      anonymous Feb 1, 2015 12:25am

      By the way… in case some of the fanatics out there start pitching the articles the author referenced at the end of the article, I suggest you look at them closely. They're not hard to get… a little challenging to read, but at least read the conclusions. The conclusion/discussion section is the most revealing. Also, the fact that an article is published has little to do with its validity.

      anonymous Mar 14, 2015 1:25pm

      Have you never heard of the glycemic index? It has been studied and proven. White flour spikes your blood sugar . I know many people in the fitness industry and we avoid simple carbs when we are dieting for competitions. Its not always about how much you eat but what you eat.

anonymous Jan 5, 2015 5:26am

Great article. You mention banishing sugar in all forms – does this mean even naturally occurring sugar in fruits? I for instance have limited refined, added sugar in my diet but still enjoy bananas, berries and so on.

Thank you

anonymous Jan 3, 2015 5:43pm

Hey Mark Hyman, I see you have a twitter account, do you tweet all your new posts?

anonymous Dec 3, 2014 2:33am

Thank you Mark for this useful post. Not only exercise, diet also has a key role in fitness. It was a surprise for me to know the calorie value of food items.

anonymous Nov 25, 2014 7:23pm

This is a great article. it really shows if we are eating healthy or not. thanks

anonymous Nov 20, 2014 8:24am

THANK YOU! This is why low-calorie but nutrient-poor foods and drinks (like diet coke) are so bad for you. Healthy eating doesn't necessarily mean low calorie eating… it's about eating whole, nutrient-dense foods to nourish your body.

anonymous Nov 20, 2014 6:57am

Obviously a person suffering pathology, like diabetes, would not be able to read an article like this and follow it to the letter because that person is already ill. This article is about prevention not cure. Seems obvious to me so not sure why you're being so prickly about this great article.

I was pre-diabetic, have followed this kind of advice in the form of the Paleo diet and my sugar levels are now fantastic, energy returned and belly fat rapidly becoming history. Thanks for sharing this article 🙂

anonymous Nov 19, 2014 12:54pm

Just so you're aware, since clearly you are neither a diabetic nor are you at all aware of the choices a diabetic needs to make with regard to food – all of your "healthy" options contain more carbohydrate grams than is typically recommended for a diabetic patient.

So if, as your article's text suggests, you are insinuating that people should choose the "healthy" options on the right instead of the options on the left so as to prevent blood sugar spikes and insulin production that you feel will cause diabetes… you've just suggested that they eat a food that would be more carbohydrates than a diabetic patient would be allowed in an entire MEAL. While none of the options on the right are things which a diabetic could choose and remain within their carbohydrate limit either, your healthy options are absolutely no better.

    anonymous Nov 20, 2014 1:07pm

    Erin, the items in the pictures are only showing a comparison of volume of different foods. It is not separated necessarily by a healthy or unhealthy column. The numbers on the pictures represent weight in grams or fluid in mililiters. Clearly soda or gummy bears are not a viable option for a diabetic, or anyone for that matter.

    The information in the article is the most important, however. Overall nutritional value is always more important than any single number. One can never just look at a carb number only and say good or bad. We must always look at the total picture (fiber, protein, etc.) because that will tell you how your body will process that food. Many people have no idea that brocolli or apples are a carb and that they break down into sugar. I'm sure you know this being a diabetic. However, that brocolli is utilized in the body completely different than the gummy bears. The most important thing in this article is it's stress of protein, especially for someone who is diabetic. Just didn't want you to lose the message because you got caught up in a not so clear graphic.

    anonymous Apr 10, 2015 11:15am

    I think you misunderstood. My daughter is type 1and uses a pump. We have been on low carb for 4 months and her sugar has been in the 100s and I lost 100 lbs. The infographic is not suggesting to eat those items, just showing how they compare to something healthier.