The Real Story Behind Calories and Your Favorite Carbs

Believe it or not, calorie is not an evil word. If you’d like to improve your health or to lose weight, it’s important to understand the difference between good and bad calories. Once you’re able to make this distinction your nutrition will improve, therefore, your health will improve, and you’ll reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

Sounds great, right?
What is a calorie, anyway? It’s a measure of energy that’s generated from food once it’s inside the body. In weight loss/gain terms: the energy that comes in minus the energy that’s spent out equals weight loss or gain.

So what are good calories?

Carbohydrates (carbs) are considered to be either simple or complex. Carbs from fruits,carbs vegetables and whole grains, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, quinoa and oats are good calorie foods. They are complex carbs with 4 calories per gram, offering more nutrients, fiber and minerals for their calorie count.

Sugar or corn syrup are both considered a simple carb. Although they also offer up 4 calories per gram, they provide no nutritional value. They are bad calorie foods.

Basically you want unrefined or unprocessed carbohydrates, like the whole grains we’ve mentioned, vegetables, fruits and beans. Refined or processed foods, like white bread, will only spike your blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to an increase in fat production and storage. If there is too much of an overconsumption of these processed carbohydrates, diseases like Type 2 Diabetes can result.

Guess what? pastaEating fat will not make you fat as quickly as carbs will.  So if you’ve cut out the fat and are consuming carbs and you aren’t losing weight, that’s why.

Your calorie intake should come from a balance of unrefined carbs, lean protein and good fats. These 3 things are essential to maintain good health.
Take pasta and pizza, for instance, which are made up of refined carbohydrates. Our bodies are going to metabolize these foods mostly as sugar.

1 serving of pasta/50 grams:

Calories: 181

Protein: 6

Carbohydrates: 38.5

1 slice of cheese pizza (100 grams):

Calories: 272

Protein: 12

Carbohydrates: 33.5

pizzaBecause the carbs in pasta (unless it’s whole grain pasta) and pizza are refined, the calorie intake are mostly empty (or bad) calories. Empty calories give you little to no nutrients.

Empty calorie foods are high in sugar and/or unhealthy fats. It’s difficult to avoid them entirely, but they should really be a minority in your overall diet. The main problem with empty calories in addition to providing low nutritional value, is that they don’t provide fiber or protein, which are essential to slow sugar absorption.

On the other hand, foods like whole grains and fruits, which are high in carbohydrates and sugar, are not considered empty calorie foods because they also provide fiber, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants.

Next time you are counting calories, remember that it’s not so much about the quantity as it is about the quality. Ask yourself if the calories you’re consuming are from whole or processed foods. Is there an equal balance between unprocessed carbs, lean meats and good fats?

If you bring this kind of awareness into your daily practice instead of counting calories, you’ll be more balanced and healthier.