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Which Weighs More, 100 Calories of Turkey or 100 Calories of Gravy?

Tim Boyer's picture
Weight loss and Gravy Calories

Sounds like the old trick question about which weighs more, 10 pounds of rocks or 10 pounds of feathers—I mean after all, if a pound is a pound, shouldn’t a calorie be a calorie? Not quite says a Prevention magazine article that points out that cutting back on a meal to save more calories for dessert just doesn’t add up the way you would like it to.


In a recent online issue of Prevention Magazine, writer Victoria Wolk points out that it’s not just how many calories you eat, but the type of calories that is also important when it comes to dieting or trimming down on a meal so that there’s more calorie-room for dessert.

Pointing to recent research reported at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting held this year, where your calories come from has a significant impact on your metabolic rate:

“It's all about the thermic effect of food, or how much energy your body uses to consume and process what you're eating,” says researcher Elizabeth Frost, a graduate assistant at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

For example, research has shown that you will burn up to 35% of those calories through digestion alone when eating protein; whereas eating fats and carbs only burns up only somewhere between 5 and 15% during the digestion process.

This research is supported by findings reported at The Obesity Society Annual Meeting where researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center wanted to determine whether high- or low-protein diets might lead to less weight gain when consuming excess calories.

In the study, 16 healthy individuals for eight weeks were overfed with varied amounts of protein: low 5%, normal 15%, and high 25%.

"What we found was that study participants all gained similar amounts of weight regardless of diet composition; however, there was a vast difference in how the body stored the excess calories. Those who consumed normal- and high- protein diets stored 45% of the excess calories as lean tissue, or muscle mass, while those who on the low-protein diet stored 95% of the excess calories as fat," stated lead author Elizabeth Frost.

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Furthermore, the study also showed that when each individual’s metabolic rate was tracked, that the high-protein fed group achieved an increase of 227 calories burned per day during rest compared to the medium-protein level subjects that saw 160 calories per day and the low-protein group that saw no increase in metabolism.

However, remember that this was from eating an excess of calories (approximately 1,000 more per day) and that all participants gained weight. The take-home message is that yes, calories from protein do more to burn calories during digestion in comparison to calories from carbs and fat, but weight loss still requires more calories burned than consumed regardless of what you are eating.

The Obesity Society president, Steven R. Smith, states that the study reinforces that it is not possible to achieve weight loss on a high-protein diet, or any diet, without burning more calories than calories consumed―also known as energy deficit.

"High-protein diets for weight-loss or to build muscle mass can certainly be effective, but the diet composition must be maintained for dieters to continue to see and sustain results," said TOS president Smith. "Further, it's important to balance how many calories you eat and how many you burn on a daily basis. This concept, also known as energy balance, is vital for weight control."

So, this Thanksgiving when it comes down to going back for seconds (or thirds) and you have to decide whether to go for another 100 calories worth of turkey or another 100 calories worth of gravy, the turkey will weigh less on your body afterward.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Prevention— “A Calorie's Just A Calorie... Right?!”

The Obesity Society― Research ties high-protein diets to increased metabolism & 45% more muscle mass.