A Calorie Is A Calorie

November 7, 2010 § 6 Comments

A calorie is a calorie.  We have all heard this saying time and time again.  We all want to believe it too.  And why not?   It is a very convenient statement to make because it is so simple.

As with most things, the truth always lies somewhere in the middle.  When we talk about caloric intake, this is definitely an important part of the equation when dealing with energy intake and body composition.  If we eat more calories than needed, weight gain should occur.  If we don’t eat enough calories, weight loss should occur.  These are not guaranteed however.  There are other variables however besides strictly focusing on sums of calories.

Think of caloric intake like a savings account.  Say you have $1,000, you can do a few things with it – One being you keep it under your mattress for safekeeping.  Two you can deposit that same $1,000  into a high interest savings account.  It is the same amount of money,  but the return on your investment is vastly different.  Same goes for caloric intake.

Everyone can agree that 2,000 calories from healthy foods such as meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, dairy and oils would cause little fat gain and appears to be a very solid day nutritionally.  Now lets examine what would happen if that same person were to eat candy, soda, and processed foods throughout the day, but still staying at that 2000 calorie mark.  Obviously this would be very unhealthy, as very few essential nutrients would be provided.  But proponents of the calorie as an calorie theory would state – that these two diets would produce the same result from a weight standpoint.  Huh?  How could eating 2000 calories of junk possibly justified?

For example, lets give a poor guy the same diet for a month.  For one month straight he eats nothing but 2,000 calories of Oreos daily.  Examine his body composition at the end of this month.  You might have to scrape him off the ground as he will certainly be too weak and dazed to support himself on his own two feet.  Then the next month he eats nothing but 2,000 calories of salmon daily.   Check out his physique.  Your telling me this guy is going to look exactly the same?

The people that continuously think a calorie is just a calorie ignore body composition, basic health, and other metabolic factors such as hormonal response.

If you are a little skeptical of this calorie is a calorie theory, you should be.  Focus on unprocessed natural foods full of protein and nutrients and you will be fine.  If you think all calories are created equal go ahead and down those one hundred calorie packs.


§ 6 Responses to A Calorie Is A Calorie

  • Well to answer the your question about the oreo cookies and the salmon, I did a little bit of quick research.

    First this guy:


    Ate all junk food for more than a month and restricted himself to 1800 calories a day. He actually did pretty well.

    Now for your example:

    2000 cal of Salmon

    You’ld be at 91 grams of fat a day
    763 mg of cholesterol
    14 grams of sat fat
    you’ld also get no vitamin c
    and very little vitamin A and calcium
    and you would also run a deficit on a few other minerals and vitamins.
    Not to mention you wouldn’t have a singe gram of carbohydrates which would be very tough.

    Now the oreos (I am assuming regular and not double stuffed)

    Youl’d be at 87 grams of fat a day
    25 grams of sat fat
    You would also have no vitamin C or vitamin A but you would get your iron.

    So my guess is the Salmon eating person would grow weak from the lack of carbs. Become anemic due to an iron deficiancy and fall to the floor faster than the oreo eating peron.

    The body would breakdown eventually for both people but it would be hard to say who would live longer.


    All this being said I ask you the question. Two twin males with and RMR of 2000 calories a day. Both are on the same exercise plan and both have the same job. Assuming they burn an extra 1000 calories a day with the work out and daily activites. Both through there diet get enough nutrition to satisify the USDA daily reccomended allowences. The first guy eats super healthy salmon, avacodo, whole wheat, etc but eats 4000 calories a day. The second eats 2500 calories a day of junk food and fast food etc. Who is where after a month, a year, 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years. Diet doesn’t change?

  • assuming they weigh 200 lbs to start also

  • The point of the post was not to determine if eating certain foods for an extended period of time would be a good idea or not. I used salmon and oreos as one example. Salmon was to demonstrate, natural, nutrient rich foods. Oreo’s was used to represent processed, junk foods. One food alone cannot supply all the necessary nutrients by itself.

    If we want to continue talking about longevity and using the extreme diet example, let’s take a person stranded on a deserted island. If that person has an unlimited amount of pretzels to eat, that person would not survive as long as someone with peanut butter. The 99% of carbs in pretzels would not sustain life nearly as long as someone eating peanut butter which of course contains fat and protein. Fat and protein are much more crucial to health and well being than carbs. The body can make its own carbs, the same cant be said about fat and protein.

    In response to the new experiment that just came out, I will have a more detailed opinion coming soon. In your mind and with the research results, caloric intake is the be-all, end-all determining factor in weight gain or loss. Other variables such as exercise, sleep, stress, hormonal factors, and excess insulin production from carbs all plays an important role in body composition and weight gain or loss.

    With your story about the twins, one twin will be consuming 1500 extra calories than his brother. Of course this is going to make a significant difference. Another factor you have ignored in this topic is BMR – basal metabolic rate. (How many calories your body burns just to survive) Eating healthier foods is more likely to be stored as lean body mass as opposed to fat mass. The more lean body mass one has, the higher ones BMR. Many factors influence BMR such as exercise, body fat percentage, ( body composition) body temperature, and gland function. There are a ton others but wouldn’t apply to this situation with two very similar twins.

    BMR would never account for a 1500 calorie difference, but cannot be totally disregarded. To answer your question, the one eating 2500 calories should have lower body weight. Body composition cannot be determined tho.

    Lastly, let’s not forget one of the most powerful hormones, insulin. Junk food contains high amounts of refined carbs which will increase insulin, which may very well increase fat storage, and then insulin resistance.

  • I dont think you can say some one can live longer on peanut butter compared to pretzels. The life span for pretzels would be aproximately 3 years not sure what it would be on natural peanut butter, I am assuming it would be some where a long the same amount since you would run into the same problems. But if you had nothing but cookie crisp cereal you’ld be able to live a long life thanks to the processed added vitamins.

    Caloric intake and caloric output is the end all in weight gain and weight loss with exception of a tumor. “exercise, sleep, stress, hormonal factors, and excess insulin production” all effect caloric output. What you eat effect caloric input.

    As for BMR its implied in the RMR which are pretty much the same thing. And the one twin who is over eating healthy food will get fat. As the sumo wrestlers who exercise and eat “healthy” natural non processed foods get fat.

    Although its not optimul to eat junk food, caloric control is the key facter in determining body fat percentage because if you are at a calorie deficit you will lose body fat. There are countless examples of vegitarian body builders, chad ocho cinco who lives on mcdonalds, hershel walker who eats nothing but carbs who are lean and perform better than anyone else on the planet.

    The bottom line is if you aren’t losing the weight you want you are eating too much and moving too little. Worry about that first. If you want to be “optimal” eat healthier foods.

    • Some sources claim sumo wrestlers eat 6,000 to 20,000 calories per day. Of course they are going to weight a ton even if it is, “clean,” food. No other factors could possibly offset a caloric surplus of that amount.

      “Caloric intake and caloric output is the end all in weight gain and weight loss”

      If this is the case, then why do anabolic steroids put on large amounts of muscle mass? Or why does cocaine and amphetamines cause massive weight loss? These substances do not contain calories.

      Of course we are not talking about drugs, we are talking about food. You don’t think food has drug- like effects? Grapefruit juice interfere with the ability to process certain drugs. Garlic is used to lower blood pressure. Fruit juice is given to diabetics to raise their blood sugar when dangerously low.

      Caloric intake effects output. They are not separate entities.

      • Simple, people on anoblic steroids tend to eat more and people on amphetamines eat less. Yes grapefuit has naragin which can increase the half life of certain drugs, garlic thins the blood thus lowers pressure, and fruit juice contains sugar so blood sugar will increase. None of it is rocket science. Again all examples lead to calories. Your steroid example is the worse one, I mean do you not think bodybuilders take steroids when cutting, they reduce their calories and reduce there weight. Even in the case of some one with a thyroid condition, the thyroid effects their base metabolisc rate and they end eating more than they burn and gain weight. I’m just tired of people over complicating what is simple math. You are arguing your point against the consensus of medical doctors and people with phd’s in nutrition. A calorie is a calorie.

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