Not all Calories are Created Equal

healthy vegetable dish salad dipping sauce
by Helena Popovic

The average person extracts 6 Calories from eating a medium-sized piece of raw celery. If you cook that same piece of celery, you begin to break down the cellulose (indigestible fibre) and end up extracting 5 times more Calories—about 30. And depending on the specific population of your gut micro-organisms, you might extract even more. The same principle applies to most other vegetables – the more they are cooked or processed, the more Calories we absorb from them.

Even the Calories our bodies extract from meat, poultry and fish differ depending on how the meat is cooked. In general, the shorter the cooking time, the more energy it takes for us to digest something and the fewer Calories it ends up contributing to our diet. Bring on the sashimi!

The energy required to digest food also depends on its protein, carbohydrate and fat content. It ‘costs’ about 30 Calories to digest 100 Calories of protein, less than 10 Calories to digest 100 Calories of carbohydrate and only 3 Calories to digest 100 Calories of fat. This means that when you eat a meal high in protein with the same number of calories as a meal high in carbohydrates or fats, the high protein meal will deliver fewer calories to your body – unless the carbohydrate meal consist of only raw, high fibre vegetables. 

What all this indicates is that when you read the number of calories on a food label, it only tells you how many calories are in the food, not how many calories will end up in your body. The more we learn about calories and digestion, the more complex the calorie game becomes. 

This is why calorie-counting is an unreliable and unpredictable method of shedding excess body fat. Not to mention that reducing calories – even if you knew exactly how much your body was absorbing – is not the answer to better health and weight management. So what to do instead? 

Become aware of which foods your body needs at any given time. This awareness is something we are born with but we tend to lose it as early as age five years because we learn the emotional, social and cultural value of food from the adults around us. We learn that certain foods are given as reward for good behaviour or compensation for life’s disappointments. We also lose our innate food intelligence through repeated dieting, overriding our hunger signals and following externally imposed meal plans. Meanwhile advertising manipulates our minds into desiring unhealthy sugary snacks. 

So quit calorie-counting and discover your own inner food wisdom.

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