All Calories Are NOT Created Equal

proteinI have been singing this tune for years, but sometimes it helps to hear it from someone else in their own words. Dr. Sears is very good at explaining things in simple terms, so I just cut and pasted his message on the subject below. Please enjoy!

I was reading The New York Times recently and came across an article, “Calories Do Count.”1 Doctors, public health officials, restaurant chain executives… are all jumping on the bandwagon about how much calories matter.

“Good old calorie counting is coming back into fashion,” the reporter wrote.

When it comes to your health, forget the fashion.

Your body treats calories differently depending on the source. A carbohydrate calorie is not the same as a protein calorie is not the same as a fat calorie. Your body “counts” them in completely different ways.

These three “macronutrients” provoke varying biological responses, some of them good, some not so good, depending on a number of factors.

You probably already know that carbohydrates kick your body’s insulin factory into gear.

Insulin is a complicated little hormone with surprisingly powerful effects. It’s your body’s central metabolic control. When you eat a slice of bread, insulin tells your liver, muscle, and fat cells to start absorbing the carbs from that bread as glucose—the form of sugar the body turns all carbs into—and to stop using fat as an energy source.

So some of the sugar gets used for energy… and the rest gets stored as fat. That fat might get used later. Or it might just sit there and make you fatter.

Calories that come from protein, on the other hand, play an entirely different role. The most important thing you need to bear in mind about them is that they’re “essential” forms of fuel for energy. Unlike energy from carbs—and most types of fat—your body can’t make them on its own.

So when you eat protein—especially a lot of protein—you’re “telling” your body that it doesn’t need to worry. It’s going to get plenty of the most essential form of energy it needs for living.

Guess what that does? It turns your body’s metabolic dial to “Fat Burn” mode. So not only does your body start running on protein-source calories… it also starts getting rid of fat stores, since they’re less efficient and more of a drag on your body, both physically (in terms of weight) and physiologically (in terms of health effects).

A recent study on the relationship between macronutrients and diet concluded, “Low carbohydrate diets result in more weight loss than low-fat/low-calorie diets after 6 months, with no adverse impact on lipids, bone density, or blood pressure.”2

In the end, all calories are not the same. Steer clear of carbs. Stick to proteins.


To Your Good Health,
Al Sears MD

1. Severson, K. “Calories Do Count.” The New York Times. Oct. 28, 2008.
2. McCarter, D. “Low-carbohydrate diet effective for adults.” The Journal of Family Practice. 2003. 52(7):515.