For decades, nutritionists and other health professionals have focused on the importance of the calorie in weight loss – balancing the number of calories we consume with the amount of energy we burn. And while there is science and credibility behind this equation, recent research has found it may not be giving us the complete picture.1 We asked our Jenny Craig Nutritionist, Monica Ropar, to help explain why all calories may not be created equal and why maintaining a balanced diet is so important.
What is a Calorie, Anyway?
Simply put, calories are the energy your body needs to keep working, running, parenting, playing and so on. By definition, a calorie is an amount of food having an energy-producing value of one large calorie.2 Your body uses three basic kinds of macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates and fat—to create caloric energy.3 Each type of macronutrient provides a specific amount of calories per gram (protein and carbohydrates contain four calories while fat provides nine calories4), and are used as an energy source.
So, the question arises, “Does it matter which foods I eat in order to lose weight?” If we use the simple equation of calories in vs. calories out—the types of food you eat shouldn’t make a difference, as long as excess calories are not being consumed. However, recent research has found that food quality may have an impact on weight loss beyond calories.5 To understand why, we’re taking a more in-depth look at each nutrient source.
Carbohydrates: Sweet Energy
When it comes to weight loss, carbs are often vilified as the food source that will hinder your goals. You’ve likely heard about different extreme low-carb lifestyles; their general philosophy is to drastically reduce the number of carbohydrates you consume, in order to avoid excess glucose being turned into adipose tissue, or fat.6
However, if you’re selecting the right kind of carbs, they actually may be aiding your weight loss efforts.
There are two kinds of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are digested slower and release a steadier stream of glucose to the bloodstream,7 providing sustained energy. Additionally, they usually contain fiber and other essential nutrients.7 Examples include foods like fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and oatmeal.
On the other hand, simple carbohydrates, like sugary cereals and candy, usually contain little to no nutritional value and are quickly digested and turned into glucose in the bloodstream7 — giving you a rush of energy and then a crash, shortly after.
So while two slices of white bread may have almost as many calories a bowl of oatmeal,8-9 the oatmeal will likely keep you feeling satiated longer—so you’re less tempted to reach for other less nutritious options later in the day. Our recommendation: try opting for complex carbs the majority of the time. Not only will they help fill you up—but you’re less likely to experience an energy crash during the day.
Fats: Unsung Superfoods
Although fats contain more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, they are critical components of a healthy diet—providing essential fatty acids and helping to deliver fat-soluble vitamins.10 Unsaturated fats (found in foods like avocados, nuts and fish) may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, both of which contribute to heart health.10
By contrast, saturated fats—including fatty meats, full-fat dairy and partially hydrogenated cooking oils—have the potential to raise cholesterol, clog arteries, may increase the risk of heart disease and potentially stall weight loss when consumed in excess.10
Proteins: Essential Building Blocks
Like carbs, protein has four calories per gram—with a couple of key differences. While carbohydrates can be processed quickly for energy, protein takes more time; because it moves slower from your stomach to your intestines,11 potentially keeping you feeling full for longer periods of time.12 And, speaking of nutrients, the ones found in high-protein foods like lean meats, eggs, beans and low-fat dairy can help your body build muscle, and may improve recovery.13
The Bottom Line: Balance is Key
While eating 300 calories worth of chips may not provide the same nutritional value (or feeling of fullness) as a similar amount of vegetables, maintaining a healthy balance between all the food groups is a key component of weight maintenance and health. By reaching for quality food the majority of the time, you’ll be setting yourself up for success!
For more information on how Jenny Craig can help you find your optimal caloric balance for weight loss, contact your local neighborhood Jenny Craig center.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
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