Does the type of food you eat matter when you’re counting calories? To a certain extent, calories are king. If you burn more than you consume, you will lose weight. However, it’s not completely straightforward – the type of food that you eat does matter, and eating certain kinds of food whilst avoiding others can be a hugely powerful tactic if you’re trying to lose weight.
A calorie is just a unit of energy – the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1kg of water by 1ºC, to be exact. That’s it – it’s just a measurement of energy. We use it to measure the amount of energy contained in our food.
The three main macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate and protein) each perform a unique function and affect your body differently. They also contain differing amounts of calories per gram : fat contains 9 calories per gram, carbohydrate 4, and protein also 4.
Other components in our food are water (0 cal per gram, drink up), alcohol (7 calories per gram) and fibre (a type of carbohydrate, but one that the body cannot digest – so 0 calories per gram).
Some people argue that it’s the type of food you eat, not the calories you consume, that counts. The kind of food you eat is important – but calories are too. Here’s why:
Calories in, calories out
We get our calories by doing only two things: eating and drinking. But we burn calories in a number of ways:
1 – Ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive, staying alive. Or, more technically, your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) This is where the bulk of your calories go – keeping your wonderful body up and running! Every bit of you from your top to your toes requires calories to keep it going, even if all you do is lie in bed.
2 – Daily Activity. This is all the stuff that you do every day, from brushing your teeth to making the bed. You wouldn’t normally think of this stuff as exercise, but unless you’re bed-bound, just going about your daily life burns calories too.
3 – Deliberate Exercise. Staying active is fabulous for your mental and physical health, and super important in maintaining a healthy weight – but on it’s own it’s not really enough for most people to lose weight effectively. To lose 1lb a week you’d have to run for about 45 minutes every day – sounds like hard work!
4 – This is the one that most people forget – the calories you burn to digest food! (More properly known as the Thermic Effect of Food, or TEF.) Unsurprisingly, different types of food require different amounts of energy to digest – something that is not taken into account on nutrition labelling or calorie counters! So here it is:
Protein: 20% – 35% calories burned through digestion
Carbohydrate: 5% – 20% calories burned through digestion (the more fibre, the more calories necessary to digest. Simple sugars are the worst, and terrible for you to boot.)
Fat: 0% – 5% calories burned through digestion (Looks like we should avoid fats, eh? Although they look like a dieter’s worst enemy, healthy fats (from olive oil and nuts etc) are incredibly important in a healthy diet. They also help you feel full sooner and are awesome for your skin and hair, so don’t cut them out!)
All calories are not created equal. Say one person eats, 1000 calories of ice cream (probably me) and another person eats 1000 calories of lean chicken. Person 2 would burn 200 – 350 calories just digesting that chicken, so their overall net intake would be around 700 cal. Our ice cream lover meanwhile requires only 50 – 100 calories to digest that fat and carbohydrate filled ice cream, and ends up with an intake of about 925 calories – over 200 more than if she’d eaten chicken!
So as you see, a calorie is a calorie, but it’s not completely straightforward. Calorie counting is still a powerful tool in your weight loss journey – but you’ll get there even quicker if you also pay attention to the type of food you consume. Stick to good quality protein, loads of vegetables, and healthy fats and you’ll do fine 🙂