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Aren't protein calories better than carbodyrate or fat calories? No!

Thomas Secrest's picture
Thomas Secrest

To successfully lose weight you really have to understand calories. Love 'em or hate 'em these numbers rule your success for failure.

Yesterday we looked at the diet / weight loss business and our fundamental conclusion was that dieting and weight loss in America is a business, a BIG business. Like any business, they want and need new customers and returning customers. They want you to diet, but they don’t necessarily want you to lose weight. There is a difference. Additionally, they will quietly lobby, against efforts to help people lose weight. Just like the tobacco industry lobbied against rules that reduced sales of their products.

To summarize, the industry is highly motivated to for you to diet, but much less motivated for you to actually lose weight.

As biological organisms, we must eat to survive. Staying alive requires a constant supply of energy. This energy is used to move us through our environment, to manipulate our environment, to generate the internal heat needed to be functional across a range of temperatures, carry out internal energetic activities (beating heart, etc.) and to repair the constant damage that is occurring in our bodies on a second by second basis.

The energy for survival comes from four groups of biomolecules: [1] carbohydrates, [2] proteins, [3] lipids (also called fats) and [4] nucleic acids, although the vast majority comes from the first three. People sometimes think that vitamins and minerals provide energy, however, their role is your body is supportive and they don’t contribute anything to your bodies energy needs.

Chemistry 101 for Dieters (don’t stop reading -- Chemistry is your friend)

When you look at a corn flake you have to be amazed that you can put in your mouth, crunch it, swallow it and then go about your daily affairs and without another conscious thought, your body will extract, from the corn flake, the energy you need to stay alive.

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So where does the energy come from? A corn flake is mostly carbohydrates, with a little bit of protein and next to no fat. The main carbohydrate in corn flakes is glucose, which is really a very simple molecule. It consist of 6 carbon atoms, 6 oxygen atoms and 12 hydrogen atoms. These atoms are linked together by chemical bonds.

There is nothing mysterious about a chemical bond; you can think of them as the little rings that hold your shower curtain to the shower rod. If you take them away you still have a curtain and a rod, but not a good place to take a shower. The little rings may seem insignificant, but clearly everything depends on them. The same is true for chemical bonds; you can remove them and you still have atoms of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but you no longer have glucose.
The energy, all the energy, of the food we eat is stored in the chemical bonds between the atoms. Since some bonds contain more energy than other bonds, there are some differences in the number of calories in the same amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (see table below if you’re curious).

  • Carbohydrates (1 gram) 4 calories (1 ounce) 113.5 calories
  • Protein (1 gram) 4 calories (1 ounce) 113.5 calories
  • Lipids (fat) (1 gram) 9 calories (1 ounce) 255.4 calories

Great! So what does all of this mean for me?

The food we eat is turned into energy that is measured in calories. That’s why we’re always counting them. However, once the food has been converted to energy, the body can’t tell if the calories came from corn flakes, a ham sandwich or a bowl of ice cream. The body is blind to the source.

Think of it like this: You are told to keep track of the number of people using a subway station; so you install a turnstile. At the end of the week you go read the numbers from the turnstile and report the information. You report that 2554 people entered the station over a 7 day period. The person who asked you to gather the information is pleased and begins to ask other questions. They ask: what percentage were males, what percentage were women between 20 and 30, what percentage were children less than 8, etc. I’m sure you see the problem, the turnstile didn’t record that information, it only recorded how many people entered the station.

Your body is the same, it doesn’t know what you eat, it only knows how many calories you consume. If a doctor takes a sample of the fat from your abdomen, there is no test on Earth that can say what food provided the calories for that fat sample. Even if you kept the best food diary in the world, it would still be impossible to tell which food contributed the fat in any particular fat sample.

We’ll learn more about this as we go deeper into the fundamentals of dieting, but I bet things are already starting to fall into place. If your body can’t tell the calories from grapefruit from the calories in a potato, then why eat grapefruit, unless you really like grapefruit? Is it also true for carrots and chocolate, you ask? Yes, it’s still true; 1000 calories of carrots is the same to the body as 1000 calories of chocolate. Are there reasons to prefer carrots over chocolate, definitely, and we’ll come to that a little later.

For now this is a good stopping place. Tomorrow, we will continue to look at calories in an effort to better understand their role in your diet.

The next time someone talks about the Atkins diet, the cabbage soup diet, the fat flush diet (sounds particularly ominous), the grapefruit diet, the macrobiotic diet, and on and on and on, I hope you will remember today’s takeaway message: Your body counts calories and could care less where they came from.