Integrative Medicine Blog

All Calories Are NOT Equal

Holly J. Niles MS, CNS, LDN Saturday, March 11, 2017
Istock calories not equal

A common myth is that it's all about calories and all calories are equal.

There are so many food messages out there these days that it can be a bit overwhelming and confusing to know what’s true. A common myth is that it’s all about calories and all calories are equal. When we read a food label and it says low calorie or no calories, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy or neutral in the body. One variation on this theme is “no sugar” or “no sugar added” label claims. What this really means is that sweetness has been added with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sugar alcohols like erythritol or even fruit juice concentrate like white grape juice or apple juice. When you read the smaller print label on these foods, you will find ingredients that may not add calories but instead add chemicals or fake sugars or concentrated sweeteners. Some studies suggest that the taste of sweet alone can create cravings for more or even blood sugar issues like Type 2 Diabetes. Food manufacturers, like any business, want repeat customers. They have food scientists who work to create these low-calorie foods in a way that leaves us wanting more. It’s easy to zero in on a low-calorie label without knowing how it was actually created. The ingredients in our food are more important than the claim the label makes.

Food is more than calories, it’s molecules of information. Chemicals are toxins and create problems for the body. Our body is designed to translate the messages of real food not fake food. No one ever reports to me that they went on an apple-eating binge because an apple is a real whole food. On the contrary, it’s easy to overeat “low calorie” foods because they leave us unsatisfied and undernourished. In the end, we lose when we focus on calories alone. To be healthy we need to look beyond calories to find the power of real food:

Here are the simple tips to get around the confusing food label messages.

1.Avoid foods with labels: Marion Nestle, the famous NYU nutritionist, speaks about the rule of 5. If any food has more than 5 ingredients-don’t eat it. If any one of those 5 ingredients are unknown to you - it’s best to skip. The best focus is real food without labels.

2.No fake sweeteners: Equal, Sweet ‘n low, Truvia, Splenda, Nutrasweet are all fake and should be totally avoided. They don’t add calories but they are chemicals. The newer sweeteners are sugar alcohols like Malitol/erythritol and can create some intestinal symptoms including loose stools. Fake sweeteners have been connected to many health challenges and should not be consumed.

3.Use common sense: if there is a food that sounds too good to be true, it probably is! When there are promises like all the flavor or pleasure without calories - it’s likely fake in some way and best to avoid.

Let go of the focus on calories and get acquainted with real food. Start cutting out these low calorie labeled foods and shift to foods without labels than can replace them. They have the message your body looks for to be healthy.