All Calories Are Not Equal

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When eaten, sugary foods and drinks, white breads and pasta, and high glycemic foods will cause a spike in blood sugar that will be followed by a longer period of low blood sugar and low energy. This leaves you craving more sugary foods so you can raise your energy levels back up.

New findings released in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that these sugary or high glycemic foods affect the areas of our brains associated with craving, hunger, and reward, thus driving us to overeat.

The glycemic index is a list of how quickly foods are processed and digested in our bodies. Something that is processed very quickly, like white bread or white pasta, will have a high glycemic index. When digested, these foods will quickly cause a spike in the blood sugar which will illicit an insulin response, like what sugar does to your body.

Foods that are processed and digested slowly have a low glycemic index. Whole wheat breads and pastas, vegetables, and foods that usually take longer to digest, will all have a lower glycemic index. The longer a food takes to digest and process, the slower a food will release its energy.  When energy is released slowly, it will not cause a spike in the blood sugar. The food will release its energy slowly as the body digests the food.

A well hidden secret of the diet industry is that it is easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off. Most people who lose weight on a diet will gain it all back within 6 months to 1 year. The New England Journal Of Medicine published a study in 2010 that concluded that diets that limited high glycemic foods like bagels, white breads and pastas, juice and soda, had some success with weight loss maintenance.

Since different foods affect us differently, Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, performed a study to see if a calorie is a calorie. Are all calories the same? Do all calories affect us in the same way?

“The research suggests that all calories are not alike,” Dr. Ludwig said. “Not everybody who eats processed carbohydrates develops uncontrollable food cravings. But for the person who has been struggling with weight in our modern food environment and unable to control their cravings, limiting refined carbohydrates (most high glycemic index foods) may be a logical first step.”

Dr. Ludwig designed a test to see if our bodies react differently to processed, refined, high glycemic foods versus low glycemic, unprocessed foods. The test that Dr. Ludwig designed used twelve obese men. They were fed milkshakes on two separate occasions. The milkshakes were identical in taste and texture, and contained the same amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

In the first part of the test, the milkshakes were made with high glycemic corn syrup. In the other part of the test, the milkshakes were made with a low glycemic sweetener. Both shakes tasted identical.

What the researchers found was that four hours after the high glycemic shakes were consumed, blood sugar levels had dropped to the hypoglycemic range. This left the test subjects hungry. Brain scans showed greater activation in the parts of the brain that regulate cravings, rewards, and addictive behavior. Every subject demonstrated the same response. Dr. Ludwig described the difference in the flow of blood to these areas of the brain as “quite substantial. The likelihood that this was due to chance was less than one in a thousand.”

This result from consuming sugary foods happens to many people on a daily basis. This is what happens when you eat or drink something sugary during the day. It will raise your blood sugar and give you energy, for about twenty minutes. Then your blood sugar will drop for the next two to four hours. During this period you will be hungry, tired and listless.

Dr. Ludwig said that previous research suggests that when blood sugar levels plummet, people have a tendency to seek out foods that can restore it quickly. This may set up a cycle of overeating driven by high glycemic foods. “It makes sense that the brain would direct us to foods that would rescue blood sugar. That’s a normal protective mechanism.”

According to this new information, it is not just eat less and exercise more to lose weight. Now it is more accurate to say “eat better, and exercise more.”

If you can eat the right kinds of foods, then you don’t have to starve yourself. Lower glycemic foods are generally made with whole wheat and whole grains and unprocessed nutrients. These foods take longer to digest than the highly processed foods. Your body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest, or process, the already processed foods. They pass through your system quickly and spike your blood sugar quickly, and then drop for an extended period of time.

Lower glycemic foods take longer to digest and they release their nutrients slowly and therefore do not spike the blood sugar. They give your body a slow, consistent addition of blood sugar so that you don’t get these energy spikes and drops.

Don’t work harder, work smarter. Don’t exercise harder, exercise smarter. It is not necessary to starve yourself to lose weight, just eat smarter. Be intelligent about what you eat so that you don’t starve yourself, so that you don’t feel deprived, and so that you can feel full and satisfied. This will make it much easier to stick with healthy eating. It is the Pain Free Way.

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2 thoughts on “All Calories Are Not Equal”

  1. I like your approach so far Josh. The information was given to us in an easy to read fashion. I look forward to what you add next

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