Are Some Calories More Fattening Than Others?

There's a simmering debate about whether calories matter when it comes to weight loss. Is weight loss an issue of quality or quantity? Or could both play a role?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
June 17, 2014
Episode #288

Page 2 of 2

It Is Still About Calories In vs. Calories Out 

My first argument is really just a semantic one. The "calories don't matter" crowd claims that 100 calories of white bread is more fattening than 100 calories of egg whites. And that's probably true because the egg white increases the number of calories you burn. So instead of adjusting the "calories in" part of the equation, you've adjusted the "calories out" part of the equation. But it is still about manipulating that relationship so that you burn more than you take in. 

My second argument is the more important one: The foods that we choose have subtle effects on our metabolism, but they have much more substantial effects on our behavior.  Minimally processed foods, which tend to be higher in fiber and water, fill you up more quickly than highly processed foods. And a meal or snack that's higher in protein and fat will keep you full for longer than one that's higher in refined carbohydrates. The result? Fewer calories in. 

So, yes, the quality of the calories you choose will have a big impact on your weight, but mostly because that has a such direct and powerful impact on the quantity you take in.  If my argument seems circular, it's because it is. These two theories about whether calories matter are not parallel lines that will never intersect. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin.  

With apologies to George Orwell, all calories count but some calories count more than others. No matter where your calories come from, you'll need to burn more than you take in, if you want to lose weight.  However, choosing whole foods and avoiding refined carbohydrates will help you burn more and make it a easier to take in fewer. 

See also: How to Lose Weight Without Dieting and 3 Tips on How to Eat Less Without Feeling Hungry



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Johnstone AM, Murison SD, et al. Factors influencing variation in basal metabolic rate include fat-free mass, fat mass, age, and circulating thyroxine but not sex, circulating leptin, or triiodothyronine. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Nov;82(5):941-8. Link to study.

Secor SM. Specific dynamic action: a review of the postprandial metabolic response. J Comp Physiol B. 2009 Jan;179(1):1-56. doi: 10.1007/s00360-008-0283-7. Link to study

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