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Weight Loss Myths Unmasked

A Calorie is a Calorie

A commonly used phrase when referring to nutrition is “a calorie is a calorie,” which can be misleading. A calorie is a measurement of energy; it’s the amount of energy needed to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius. Over time, however, calories have come to be associated with human biology, not just with energy measurement. It is true, from an actual energy standpoint, that in a closed loop system all calories are equal. It’s when we look at what happens to a calorie after it’s ingested, that we start seeing some important differences that depend on the source of the calorie.

All foods provide energy to the body and deliver nutrients and trigger different hormonal pathways. For example, foods such as nuts, seeds, pineapples and bananas are high in serotonin or better known as our “feel good hormone”. A diet lacking in these power foods, can lead to depression or a feeling of gloom.

Consider 100 calories derived from table sugar compared to 100 calories derived from olive oil; these calories have different speeds and pathways of digestion, trigger different hormonal pathways, and can have different impacts on weight management and overall health. Olive oil for example is rich in omega 6  fatty acids which help to feed a hormone-like substance in our body known as prostaglandins. In moderation, omega 6 fatty acids can halt the inflammatory processes in the body. Processed sugar intake immediately leads to the production of inflammatory messengers.

So when considering calories, it makes more sense to not just consider the total amount of energy derived from a calorie, but also daily nutrient needs. In my Practice, I often recommend a focus on the nutrient quality of calories, not just total calorie quantity – an approach referred to as nutrient density. Foods are not made up of calories alone, but rather they are complex mixtures in terms of nutrients. This can have a vast effect on the hormones that control hunger, and those that tell our bodies to either burn or store fat. Nutrient density is an approach that promotes getting as much out of the total calorie intake as possible, and striving to meet not only energy needs but also vitamin, mineral, and other nutrients and biological needs from those total calories.

The One Size Fits all Approach

It’s a myth that there is one perfect diet. Our nutritional needs are as individual as our fingerprints, so understanding what causes a person’s nutritional needs to be different can help that person choose the best combination of foods and supplements that meets their needs.

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Factors that influence energy needs include exercise, recovery, illness, and metabolism, all of which have an impact on an individual’s calorie requirements. Stress levels, hormone fluctuations, and even environmental pollutants can alter an individual’s specific nutrition needs. Careful attention to the type of foods eaten can determine gaps in nutrient intake and identify nutritional supplements that can complement the diet..

Best Calorie Sources

So which foods don’t tell us to store fat and send us back to the fridge an hour later? The answer goes back to the way we ate before we were inundated with processed foods and shelves filled with boxed options. Focus on eating vegetarian protein sources, healthy vegan fats, and unprocessed, unrefined carbohydrates such as vegetables, beans, and fruit. And when it comes to whole grains, the less processed the better—think brown rice vs. white and stone-ground whole wheat, quinoa, or oats instead of white bread. Choose fats that come from plant sources like nuts, olive oil and avocado.

If you find yourself not knowing which foods are helping or hindering your health, schedule a consultation. You’ll be surprised to know what you thought was “healthy” is actually harming your body.

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