Ask Keri: If I eat 100 calories of jelly beans, isn’t that the same as eating 100 calories of another snack like turkey and avocado?
Keri Says: There’s a reason why people say “a calorie is a calorie.” In all fairness, a calorie is a calorie in its most simple form. And for years, it was drilled into our heads that counting calories was the only way to lose weight.
Calories are a measure of the energy generated from food once inside the body, and they abide by a simple law of physics: energy in minus energy out equals weight loss or gain. This is true both in a test-tube and in tightly controlled weight-loss experiments, where people are basically locked-up and fed exactly the same number of calories from different types of diets.
Time and again, subjects will lose roughly the same amount of weight, regardless of whether the calories come from low-fat, low-carb, or diets somewhere in between.
However, this is far from the complete story.
The human body is quite complex and there are many factors at play at all times. Hormones, emotions, cravings, and even our social schedule influence the amount of calories we consume and how our body processes them. So, I’m going to explain why 100 calories of jelly beans is not the same as 100 calories of fresh turkey and a slice of avocado. Stay with me.
Why You Should Stop Counting Calories
If all calories were created equal, many of us would choose to live in a land of gummy bears and Swedish fish. But food isn’t made up of calories alone.
Let’s go back to those jelly beans. The only nutrient jelly beans provide is sugar. Sugar does nothing good for our bodies and actually does a whole lot of harm. During digestion, sugary treats stimulate the hormone insulin to be released. Insulin is good in the way that it helps cells uptake nutrients we eat, but it also inhibits the breakdown of fat and encourages the creation of it when we take in those excess calories.
Translation: if we don’t need those jelly bean calories they’ll be turned to fat—fast.
This spike in insulin and blood sugar also causes us to feel hungrier sooner, which likely means our hand goes right back into the candy bag and pops another 100 calories in our mouth before we’ve had time to even think about it.
And the last nail in the coffin for living on calories from sugar alone is that we will actually die from it. Seriously… sugar alone would eventually kill us. We need nutrients, vitamins, and phytonutrients that real whole foods provide to fuel all bodily processes.
Now, a portion of turkey and avocado can also provide the body with 100 calories. But, these calories are loaded with protein, fiber, healthy fats, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and many other vitamins and minerals our bodies needs to perform at an optimum level of health.
These nutrients help with body processes from building muscle to improving energy to boosting the immune system to helping prevent cancer, heart disease and a whole host of other benefits.
Guess what else these calories do for us? They help to keep you satisfied and full—so we aren’t as likely to go back for seconds—and they keep fat storage hormones in check. By helping to control blood sugar, our insulin release is more stable and we release less fat storage hormones.
So, the important takeaway is to watch your total calorie intake, but most important is to eat whole, real, unprocessed foods. And, don’t forget to read the ingredient list of any packaged foods you do eat to get the full nutritional picture.
Jelly beans can never replace the nutritional benefits provided by consuming whole, real foods—even if you eat the same amount of calories. Alas, a calorie is not a calorie!