Calorie VS Calorie
You’ve heard it before, right?
In order to lose weight, you have to balance the equation of Calorie IN vs Calorie OUT. From a weight loss point of view, it’s relatively simple.
But do you want to lose weight and keep it down? Do you want your body to be healthy for the years to come? These two things go hand in hand, really. You want to look good, I get it. But looking good doesn’t just mean losing weight. It means healthy organs on the inside and skin on the outside.
Most people will probably disagree when I say: “No, a calorie is not a calorie.” But I think I have a strong argument as to why not.
Some professionals hate the name, they say that a calorie is a calorie and that our body needs a certain amount of them each day and they are no different, regardless the delivery method. So if I need 2 000 kcal a day and I eat 2 000 kcal a day, that should be fine.
Yes, it should be. Theoretically.
But let’s say I don’t care about nutrition at all and my eating habits are based around sugary cereals, McDonald’s every couple of days, snacks in form of chocolate bars or sausage rolls, store – bought meals for dinner, perhaps followed by a couple of beers.
Now, these foods are not very nutritionally dense. They pack a lot of calories but very little fibre, therefore they don’t make us feel full. Not to mention the fact that they include next to no important nutrients vital for living. My point here is not to say that these meals individually are terrible but that our diet has become very dull and very absent of vegetables and fruit which are rich in minerals, vitamins and fibre. We are so lucky that the food we eat, for example bread, is now artificially fortified with vitamins because we would all be sick by now.
What is an excellent example of an empty calorie, however?
I’m not saying, don’t drink. I enjoy wine and beer immensely. But I know what they are. They are just extra calories that don’t deliver any nutrition or benefits, they basically just go through us contributing to calorie intake. If I’m sitting on my bum all day (like right now in lockdown 2.0), I cannot really justify drinking a bottle of wine or a six pack of beers.
I’m also not saying that if you train at the gym 5 times a week, it’s OK to finish every day with a bottle wine. Nobody would do that because athletes know that alcohol hinders recovery. Everyone who is at least a little serious about exercise won’t drink in excess regularly.
One can of beer (330 ml) packs around 150 kcal. You can do the math yourself but 3 beers in, you are on 450 kcal. And you are not getting satiated, it’s liquid so it just goes through us without even doing what liquids should do – hydrate. No fibre to fill up our gut, if anything, alcohol is well-known to increase appetite so we are more likely to eat while drinking.
So, no, calorie is not a calorie and empty calories do exist.
All popular drinks are anything between 100 and 200 kcal. Spirits having less, beer and wine having more.
But just to mention some of the popular ones:
- A pint of lager – 180 kcal
- 250 ml of red/white wine – 170 kcal (yes, they are both the same, white wine is not better)
- Vodka + Soda – 100 kcal (double)
- Vodka + Tonic – 175 kcal (double)
- Vodka + Coke – 175 kcal (double)
- Sparkling Wine – 130 kcal (flute)
Another perfect example of an empty calorie is a fizzy drink. Any type. Coca – Cola, 7UP, Sprite, Pepsi. These all pack around 150 kcal per can, you can easily see why the term “empty calories” is so fitting. These products contain ZERO amounts of absolutely everything apart from sugar.
Yes, you can argue that we can solve this by drinking diet versions. Yes, you can but it’s up to you to decide whether you want put potentially carcinogenic stuff into your body.
CALORIES WE FORGET
Take a very British cup of tea as an example. Most people add sugar and a few biscuits. Especially when at work 🙂 So one cup of tea with milk and sugar is around 40 kcal. Definitely not much but paired with two digestives the value shoots up to 180 for the lot. How many times a day you do this? Especially if you work in the office 🙂 Three, four, five times? I think it’s safe to assume that in a 8h stressful day, a person can easily drink 3 cups of tea and 6 biscuits.
Here you go, over 500 kcal. That might not be much for a fairly active person but for sedentary office based job, it’s enough. And what is interesting about these little nibbles is that people never admit to having them. Not consciously, not at all. But we just tend to forget them. Same as the big frappuccino you picked up in Starbucks on the way to work on a nice hot summer morning. With whipped cream of course. The tall version of this beverage with semi-skimmed milk and cream on top gives you 240 kcal.
Added to your cups of tea and biscuits? I believe we reached nearly 800 kcal. And from what? A coffee in the morning, few cups of tea and a few biscuits. That’s 800 kcal not even counting breakfast, lunch, dinner and a few drinks in the evening.
Now, if you are someone incredibly busy, running around all day, that might be OK. But if you sit for most of the 8h at work, it will be impossible not to go over your daily calories. Based on the average, women should eat around 2 000 a day and men around 2 500 kcal a day. This depends on daily activity and other factors so don’t take this too seriously but I think it’s safe to assume that a woman with a sedentary job has an expenditure of around 2 000 kcal a day, if not less. Now, she has already eaten 800, that gives her only 1 200 to go for her proper meals in order not to go over the 2 000 mark.
If you ask a person what they ate today, they will name you breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can guarantee you they will not include nibbles or takeaway coffees, let alone alcohol. That’s why there is so many people out there saying: “But I only had salad for lunch, why am I not losing weight?” They will not take into account the biscuits, nuts, crisps, takeaway coffees and alcohol. People only look at what they had for their meals for some reason, for example they had an incredibly healthy dinner consisting of a lot of vegetables and perhaps a lean piece of chicken nicely baked in the oven. Then they sit in front of TV, open a beer and devour a packet of crisps every night. They step on the scale a few weeks later and are incredibly disappointed that no change has occurred.
I’m not trying to make you count every single calorie. I’ve never done it, never wrote a food journal and never counted calories, let alone writing them down but be honest with yourself. The only person you are cheating is yourself.
100 calories coming from a Big Mac deliver the same amount of energy as 100 calories coming from vegetables. That’s why everyone says that calorie is a calorie. But let’s have a look at the nutritional value and the amount you have to eat to get that one hundred calories of both 🙂 As a vegetable I picked a carrot, don’t ask me why 🙂
100 kcal in the form of carrot means you would have to eat 250g of that particular vegetable.100 kcal of Big Mac means you’d have to eat only 39g. The reason for this is vegetables contain a lot of additional water and, most importantly fiber which is very important for our stomach and not just because it keeps our gut healthy, it tells us when to stop eating because we’ve had enough.
Whole foods, not just vegetables, but whole meal and whole grain products, contain more fibre than processed ones. For example white bread is basically just starch. All fibre from the grain has been removed and the only part that’s left is the starchy core which will turn into simple sugar after ingesting without filling us up very much.
Let’s get back to our Big Mac, however because I want to point out another interesting fact 🙂
39g of Big Mac that we would have to eat to get 100 kcal is not much 🙂 Actually the whole item is 219g and packs incredible 560 kcal! I don’t even want to talk about how much is it with chips and coke, I’m not going to get into that, you do the math yourself 🙂 But let me ask you a question.
“Do you feel full after a Big Mac?” You probably do immediately after so let me ask you another one.
“How long do you feel full for?” An hour maybe? Perhaps two. Then you have to chase something else.
This is all down to the fact that fast food and processed food is calorie dense with not much fibre and an incredible amount of fat. Big Mac packs 50% of daily value of fat, incredible 41% of sodium and shocking 26% of cholesterol. In one item!
And you can bet that other processed food items out there are not much different. Have a look at your frozen pizza next time you get it out of the freezer 🙂 Average frozen pepperoni pizza will give you well over 600 kcal mark and it might not even be a large one.
By eating whole foods, you are also ingesting a great variety of vitamins and minerals that help your body fight everything we encounter, for example illnesses, free radicals (chemicals coming from pollution and food) and it simply helps us to function properly. A person who consumes less cholesterol and fat usually has cleaner arteries and blood carrying oxygen can flow with less effort, making going about their day a lot easier. If your arteries are clogged up with bad fat and cholesterol, you will probably struggle with something as easy as stairs, eventually putting yourself in danger of developing a cardiovascular disease.
Vitamins also make us look beautiful, they are important for the health of our skin, nails, hair, eyes and teeth.
We also need vitamins to be able to efficiently extract energy out of the food we eat. All B vitamins are essential for human body to be able to efficiently produce energy from food. B vitamins mean quicker and healthier metabolism.
CALORIE IS NOT A CALORIE
We’ve proved it is the same regarding energy we receive, but that’s about it.
A person who eats four Big Macs a day will reach 2 240 kcal a day which is about the average standard for an average person. But what does the person get?
- 200% of their daily fat value
- 104% cholesterol
- 164% sodium which is salt and we know that excessive amount of salt in the diet does not have any incredible benefits
- 208% protein – I suppose protein doesn’t hurt much but in excess, it still gets stored as adipose tissue contributing to obesity
I know nobody eats four Big Macs a day, or at least not an average person. But we snack on other stuff like sausage rolls, frozen pizzas, ready meals, takeaway and all these products are high in sodium and fat meaning more calories than we would expect. Take Big Mac as an example of something that is highly processed, then having a processed food 4 times a day doesn’t sound so unlikely, does it?
Vitamins, minerals and fibre are incredibly important for someone who exercises. In order for our body to perform properly, we need whole foods going in because consuming a lot of food rich in bad fats doesn’t fuel body for exercise. It would be like putting petrol into diesel engine. It’s not going to work and it will break down in the end. Athlete needs to be fueled mainly with carbohydrates because in order to burn fat, we need oxygen which is not always available in the amount our body needs. Two out of three energy systems (the way human body turns food to energy) are anaerobic – without the presence of oxygen, and fats can only be broken down when oxygen is present! The rest of the time, active body relies on carbohydrates and to some extent protein for fuel.
Diet high in processed food is also very dangerous for a developing body of children. More often than not, kids are fed processed items. You are probably saying: “I don’t give my kid processed food.”
Just think about it. Breakfast cereal? Sausage roll? Ham? Frozen pizza? Frozen chips? Store bought soups and sauces?
Because we buy pre-prepared product we are vulnerable to added fat, sugar and salt that would not be an issue if the dish was prepared at home. Store bought products require all these additives to increase shelf life. If we make a tomato soup at home, we can control what goes in there. It will not last weeks in the fridge but that’s OK. We will probably have it for dinner, then leftover for lunch and that’s it. Store bought items however need to survive a lot longer than two days. They need to survive the journey to the shop, the time they are stored in the supermarket storage room and then it still must have some time left after the customer buys it. You are looking at a week, easily more. The way to ensure this is to add preservatives and the easiest and cheapest ones are salt and sugar.
Salt doesn’t give us extra calories but carries a different issue. Human body needs small amounts of sodium (up to 500mg a day) in order to conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles and maintain a proper balance of water and minerals. Too much sodium can, however, lead to the body holding onto water to dilute the excess salt which effectively increases the amount of water in cells and blood volume. This then consequently leads to heart working a lot harder causing high blood pressure, heart disease or even stroke.
Too much sodium can also cause calcium being pulled out from bone leading to brittle bones and osteoporosis. As much as a teaspoon of salt a day is way too much for an average person and since sodium is an excellent preservative, because harmful bacteria cannot live in an environment high in salt, there is a good chance there is some amount of sodium in every single product you buy. They individually pose no threat but adding up all the items you eat daily, you might be surprised at how much salt you are consuming.
And why do we find added sugar in a lot of products where you wouldn’t expect it?
Sugar helps to preserve colour, texture and flavour of the food. And apart from that, it adds an incredible amount of calories. So in order for jams, jellies, baked goods and soups to be more colourful and flavourful, we have to consume considerably more calories than we would normally do if we prepared that particular product at home. Sugar also inhibits macrobial activity therefore, again, increasing shelf life.
So let’s look at a perfect example which is a tomato soup. Incredibly easy to make at home but a lot of people still buy it in a shop. The only sugars you have in a home made tomato soup come from the actual fruit (or vegetable, I know it’s a constant argument so I’ll let you decide what on earth it is).
I compared 200g of tomatoes to 200g of Sainsbury’s tomato soup. I don’t add many things to my home made soup apart from loads of basil which, as a herb, doesn’t contain any extra sugar, salt and pepper. Sometimes I might add red peppers, either in a jar or fresh ones roasted on a baking tray alongside the tomatoes. Now, according to USDA, 200g of tomatoes contain 5.2g of sugar. If you add half a stock pot (which I usually do), you are looking at another 2g. That’s 7.2g altogether per 200g (ml) of home made tomato soup.
The one from Sainsbury’s packs 11.4g per 200g which is around a teaspoon more per serving. That might not sound as much but if you buy pre – prepared items a lot instead of making them yourself, it can easilly add up during the day.
I love sweet stuff, especially now, just before Christmas, the shops are full of special treats, coffee places sell gingerbread and pumpkin spiced lattes 🙂
Life would be boring without these foods but balance is key. If you have a decent diet most of the time, a chocolate bar or an ice cream occasionally (even if you eat a tub of it) is never a problem. Problem arises when we start eating just junk all the time! And by junk I don’t just mean McDonalds or KFC. By saying “junk” I mean everything store pre – prepared with loads of added salt and sugar.
Next time you go shopping, have a look at the labels and see for yourself whether it’s worth it. You will often find out that preparing certain dishes (especially soups) is a lot cheaper if done from fresh ingredients. I guess we’ve become lazy and want everything done for us, cooking is not a thing anymore because we are so busy that we cannot even sacrifice 45 mins a day for meal preparation, yet we can sit in front of the TV all evening.
Some people argue that they don’t want to spend all evening cooking, especially after a long day. Cooking and meal prep can be an incredibly therapeutic experience, you can even put your favourite show on a portable tablet and watch it while cooking.
How about baking a cake or make home – made cookies with your kids. This will give you the opportunity to add as much or as little sugar as you want.
Don’t make silly excuses and change your lifestyle today 🙂
Let me know in the comments how you’re getting on