Why do not all calories count the same?

"Our body is a biochemical laboratory that processes each food in a different way", explains Marta Hermosín, pharmacist and nutritionist. Each type has a different impact on the biological processes. For example, we lose more weight if we reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods that if we decrease the fresh products, although both have the same calories. "Studies have shown that to treat the over weight we have to look beyond calories ", says the expert, we agree with her on these 10 reasons to rethink the myth of calories.

1. The importance of thermogenesis

When we metabolize proteins, much of their calories are lost in the form of heat. It is what is known as thermogenesis of food. This is the thermal effect of the macronutrients:

Fat: 2-3% (9 cal / g).

Carbohydrates: 6-8% (4 cal / g).

Protein: 25-30% (4 cal / g).

As you see, the protein It needs much more energy than fats and carbohydrates to be metabolized. Put another way: high protein diets have a metabolic advantage on those rich in carbohydrates or fats. That explains why 100 calories of protein end up counting as 75 calories, while 100 calories of fat will end up contributing 98 calories.

2. The type of sugar is important

Both simple sugars most present in our diet are the glucose and the fructose. Although, gram for gram, both have the same calories, our body metabolizes them differently. While glucose can be metabolized by all tissues of the body, fructose can only be ordered by the liver.

When we consume fructose, the levels of ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates the appetite) increase more than when we consume glucose. Also, as fructose does not stimulate both the satiety centers of the brain and glucose, increases the risk of eating more.

It's very important avoid added sugars (like high fructose corn syrup, present in many processed products) and to privilege the cheese that is naturally present in fresh fruits, because the fiber and water they contain positively affects its absorption.

In contrast, consuming too much fructose in the form of added sugar increases the risk of Insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, high triglyceride levels, blood sugar and LDL of dense and small particles (the worst type of cholesterol) than the same calories from glucose. In short: with the same calories of sugar, the effects on appetite, hormones and metabolism are different.

3. Protein can be your ally

The benefits of protein do not end with metabolism. The protein-rich diets they also reduce appetite. A study by the University of Washington has shown that people who increase their protein intake up to 30% of their daily calories end up taking almost 450 fewer calories a day and losing almost five kilos in 12 weeks.

As the authors of this research explain: "Increasing protein intake could be the simplest way to lose weight."

4. The effect of satiety

It is easier to consume 500 calories in the form of pastries than broccoli. Why? By the index of satiety, which measures the capacity of a food for calm hunger in the following hours. If you consume foods with a low satiety index, you will be hungry in a short time and you will eat more throughout the day. But if you choose them with a high index, you will end up eating and weighing less.

Cooked potatoes, oranges, apples, lean meats, white beans, wholemeal pasta, fish, vegetables, nuts … all have a high index. The youngest has the pastry.

Beware of fast food:

  • To demonstrate how the diversity of intestinal bacteria reduce ultra-processed foods, Professor Tim Spector, director of the British Gut Project, asked his son Tom to only consume fast food for 10 days.
  • At the end of that period of time, the father found that almost half of the bacterial species in Tom's intestine had disappeared. As alterations in the intestinal microbiome increase the risk of gaining weight, you extract the consequence of fast-food consumption yourself.

5. Eye with carbohydrates

More than 23 studies have investigated the Effect of carbohydrates on weight. All of them conclude that reducing their presence in the diet achieves greater weight losses than reducing fat (often with twice and triple the effectiveness of the latter alternative).

One explanation is that when you consume less carbohydrates your appetite is reduced and you start eating less. Another is that by drinking less, you retain less water, which also explains why abdominal swelling tends to disappear when you do it.

In addition, low carbohydrate diets tend to carry more protein than low-fat diets (if you look closely, these tend to carry more starches) and the protein requires more energy than the rest of the macronutrients to be metabolized. There you have another key.

6. The role of the dream

Hundreds of studies conclude that sleeping less than seven hours a day favors obesity. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin levels and reduces those of leptin (the hormone that reduces appetite). In addition, when we are tired, our metabolism is reduced to conserve maximum energy and we consume more calories. One study observed that people who slept little ended up consuming up to 300 more calories per day than those who did not have a lack of sleep.

That does not mean that sleeping too much helps you lose weight. Conversely, several studies associate excess with an increased risk of obesity and mortality from any cause. Although the amount of sleep we need varies with the years and depends on the levels of activity we have, the experts recommend in general between seven and nine hours each night.

7. The influence of the glycemic index

What all nutrition experts agree on is that refined carbohydrates are bad. These include the sugars and flours that the body converts into simple sugars. By producing white flours, the grain bran, rich in fiber, is discarded, which causes rapid increases in blood sugar levels.

The Glycemic Index (GI) It indicates how quickly a food increases blood sugar levels. If you consume a food with a high GI, your sugar levels will increase to plummet a short time later. When that happens, you want to take another food rich in refined carbohydrates to achieve the same effect. If you do it again and again, your risk of obesity skyrockets.

In a study in which shakes with identical aspect but with different GI were served, the experts found that those with a high GI increased appetite more than those with a low GI. Other investigations have seen that people who eat more foods with a high GI have a higher risk of obesity and diabetes.

8. The risk of stress

When you are stressed you release ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates the appetite. Ghrelin explains why you throw yourself on that pizza when you have problems or feel under pressure. The downside of stress and ghrelin is that they increase, above all, the desire to take refined carbohydrates that, in turn, trigger blood sugar levels and increase the risk of obesity.

Instead, we control weight better and reduce many health risks when we have low levels of stress. That is why it is so important to learn to control it. The mindfulness, yoga and outdoor exercise They have proven to be helpful.

9. The ticking of clock genes

These genes are activated or deactivated depending on the changes in sunlight. The good news is that a person with genetic risk of obesity, but who adopts a diet and a lifestyle that includes exercise and regular schedules, can make those genes act in their favor. Instead, eat after hours (especially, dine late) or doing it quickly increases the risk of gaining weight. If we act badly, we can generate epigenetic changes that activate genes that favor obesity.

10. The microbiota is important

Billions of microbes, especially bacteria, they live in your body, most of them, in your intestine. When the diversity of intestinal bacteria is reduced, the risk of obesity increases, among other diseases.

The antibiotic abuse, stress and ultra-processed diets they reduce that diversity a lot and do it in a few days. The recipe? Adopt diets rich in fresh foods, relax and do not use antibiotics, unless prescribed by the doctor. Fermented and other foods and beverages rich in prebiotics They can help repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria.