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The Calorie Trap: Not All Calories Are Created Equal

Smart choice“A calorie is a calorie”. This has been a common mantra most people go by when it comes to weight loss, where the belief that consuming 100 calories worth of Coke or fries is the same as 100 calories worth of beans or broccoli. Fall into that trap, and you are setting yourself for failure. Why you may ask?

Counting calories has been the focus of many, if not most people trying to lose weight. Yet, this is now seen as a misleading practice because the quality of calories consumed is just as important as quantity. To illustrate this further, let us look at how carbohydrates are digested including the concept of the Glycaemic Index (GI). As we all know, carbohydrates are the best source of energy for your body. When digested, carbohydrates break down to form glucose in the bloodstream. The pancreas then secretes a hormone called insulin to help glucose move from the blood into cells. Carbohydrates are found in breads and cereals, rice and pasta to fruits and dairy products such as milk and yoghurt. Now, would consuming 2 slices of white bread or 50g of sweet biscuits be the same as consuming 2 slices of wholegrain bread or 50g of multigrain crackers? The answer is No.

The type of carbohydrate you consume is vital as your body digests processed carbohydrates such as white bread differently than their complex counterparts such as the wholegrain varieties. This brings us to the concept of the Glycaemic Index (GI). The GI is a term given to describe how quickly carbohydrates break down and affect your blood sugar levels. Carbs that break down quickly causing a quick, high rise in your sugar levels are known as high GI foods. Those that are digested and absorbed more gradually, causing a slower, longer lasting rise in blood sugar levels are considered low GI foods.

Having a low GI diet is believed to improve your body’s ability to use glucose for energy and improves your feeling of fullness, which in turn, helps with weight management. A low GI diet can also be low in fat and high in fibre making it appropriate for all people.  The following list provides you with choices of Low GI foods to include into your daily diet: 

Bread Products Breakfast Cereals Rice, Pasta, Noodles Starchy Vegetables Fruits
Wholegrain bread slices or rolls All Bran, Bran flakes Wholemeal Pasta Sweet potato, sweet corn Apples, Pears, Oranges
Wholemeal pita/pocket bread or tortilla Wholewheat flakes Wheat noodles, Rice noodles Broad beans, split peas, baked beans Plums, Peaches
Fruit loaf or raisin bread Oats Basmati rice, Brown rice Chick peas, Kidney beans Kiwifruit
Sourdough Rye Oatbran Barley, Cous cous Lentils Strawberries, Berries

By now, the concept of “a calorie is a calorie” should slowly take a bow, and bid farewell to the world of weight loss because it’s more than just calories. It comes down to all the extras a food provides our bodies with. When consuming processed foods such as ready to eat snacks, chocolate bars and confectionary, our bodies are being loaded with a cocktail of artificial ingredients and additives that may cause harm in the long run when consumed regularly. Therefore, 180 calories consumed from a high sugar snack bar provides our bodies with processed sugars, artificial ingredients and unhealthy fats. Whilst, 180 calories from a home-made berry smoothie provides us with vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals; a blissful mix of nutrients.

The processed food industry has also received its share of scrutiny because of the addition of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). HFCS is not considered a naturally occurring substance where it is extracted from corn stalks via chemical enzymatic processes producing the chemically and biologically novel compound. HFCS consumption has doubled over the years after its introduction into the processed food industry and some studies have shown that excessive HFCS consumption may play a role in developing insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity and fatty liver in humans. Products that usually contain HFCS such as sodas, cookies and confectionary are of poor nutritional quality and regular consumption is now known to cause internal harm.

All in all, the message is pretty simple: counting calories alone is not the key to successful weight loss. The type of foods you consume affect your blood sugar levels and metabolism in different ways and in turn, will influence how you idealise your weight. Make the most out of the foods you consume, so instead of opting for a 100- calorie pack of crisps as a daily snack, why not choose a 100-calorie bowl of fruit and nuts? Reality is, we all need a bit of indulgence foods in our lives. However, the key is not to let such foods displace nutrients our bodies require on a daily basis.

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