Dr. Luiza Petre's Tips

Losing Weight: Where Do Your Calories Come From

Dr. Luiza Petre

Dr. Luiza Petre, cardiologist and nutrition expert, recommends that instead of worrying about reducing caloric intake, you should concentrate on the source of the calories.

Losing weight has never been a simple code to decipher, and that’s why ninety percent of dieters gain their weight back. How many times have you heard your friends saying “if I am not eating anything, how is it that I don’t lose weight?” It is a haunting mystery that has yet to be solved. The idea that losing weight is simple math—counting calories in versus calories out—is embedded in our consciousness. But is that true? Do calories really matter? What is this unit called a calorie and why does it behave the way it does?Food Color and CaloriesSo let’s put one calorie under a microscope and look at its complexity. The idea that calories are the most important part of weight loss, weight maintenance, and that the sources of those calories don’t matter is a huge fallacy. In fact, for those looking to lose weight, the source of those calories is far more important than the number of calories. Scientists now have evidence that 90 calories from broccoli are different from 90 calories of soda.

The research challenges the idea that a “calorie is a calorie,” suggesting that weight loss is not just a matter of counting calories. A study published in June 2012, in the Journal of the American Medical Association has proved that certain foods and diets may be better than others for burning calories and helping people maintain weight loss.

Losing weight has never been a simple code to decipher, and that’s why ninety percent of dieters gain their weight back.

A very low-carb diet—rather than a low-fat or low-glycemic index diet —offers the best chance of keeping weight off, researchers suggest. Participants in the study ate about 1,600 calories a day on each of the diets. Even though they ate the same number of calories, the participants burned about 300 more calories per day when following the very-low-carb eating plan compared to the low-fat plan.

Moreover, the study participants burned about 150 fewer calories per day from the low-fat eating plan than they did on the low-glycemic index diet. The scientists also noted that people often lose weight on low-fat diets, but the vast majority end up gaining the weight back very quickly. This is because this program may actually slow a person’s metabolism down to a level where it is not burning calories as effectively as it could. Thus, from a metabolic perspective, the research shows that all calories are not alike.

Food Color and Calories

The type of food we eat is much more relevant to weight loss than the number of calories we consume. This is because all calories interact differently with our biology. Carbohydrates, fat, and protein calories are actually equal by definition—if we look at their energy content—but the body processes each in different ways. These differences have actual roles in weight loss and management.

Coca-Cola is the most popular soft drink in history. However, 7.5 fl oz. of Coke contains about 90 calories, and it is not the same as 90 calories from a vegetable, nutritionists suggest. When we drink soda, the body quickly absorbs glucose and fructose, increasing your blood sugar. This leads to high insulin levels, which turns on a hormonal response in which your body stores belly fat. High insulin levels also raise blood pressure and may cause other consequences detrimental to your health, including heart disease. On the other hand, 90 calories from broccoli will lead to a positive full-body biochemical reaction. Due to the high-fiber and low-sugar content of broccoli and other foods, these calories will be digested much more slowly than the 90 calories of a soft drink or chocolate.

So here it is, mystery solved, a calorie is not just a digital unit. They come in many forms and have different biochemical behaviors depending on the nature of the food. Choose your calories wisely and you can enjoy rich, delicious flavors without packing on those unwanted pounds. As in everything else, quality does matter.  ■

DR. LUIZA PETRE: Cardiologist and medical director of three Medi-Weightloss® clinics, a physician-supervised weight loss program. She lives and practices in New York. www.mediweightloss.com

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