Are all calories equal?

Health and Fitness Advice

What’s the best way to approach your calories when it comes to fat loss? Are all calories equal? Simply put, yes - how much you eat is the most important factor for fat loss.

But (sure isn't there always a but ), are there differences between the calories in unprocessed food and the calories in processed food? So if there is a difference, then you would imagine what you eat may have an impact?

So what is a calorie?

A calorie is simply a unit of measurement, much like a metre is a measure of distance; just like a 100m stretch of road filled with potholes is the same distance as a smooth 100m surface. Even though the distances may be exactly the same, the quality of the surfaces may vary. To a certain extent we can use the same analogy with calories.

A calorie is a measurement of the energy content in food and drink. So when you compare the calories in a piece of fruit to an equal amount of calories in a bag of sweets, you are comparing the amount of energy those foods provide. Although the calories may be the same, one thing to consider is the quality of those foods and how nutritious they are, as nutritional content may be significantly different.

The fruit may contain more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients which will aid optimal health, whereas the sweets may not. So when you hear someone claim that all calories are not equal, they probably mean that the nutrient content is not equal.

Energy balance (calories ) is the number one consideration when looking at fat loss. This does not mean you should overlook what you eat. Food choices play a key part in achieving a calorie deficit whilst also maintaining optimal health. Approaching your nutrition with a focus on unprocessed foods the majority of the time will only ever be a good thing. You will provide your body with the key nutrients it needs for more favourable health. Aside from this, foods high in fibre and protein content will generally be more satiating, which is beneficial to the cause if fat loss is your goal. But everything in moderation - don’t fear the treats or processed foods. Eat in a way that supports your goals but also allows for food that is good for your soul. Food should never raise feelings of guilt or shame.

Some tips to take away if fat loss is your key focus

1. Control your calories (whether by tracking them or eating more mindfully ).

2. Try to incorporate a healthy balance of protein and fibre in your diet.

3. Include more nutrient dense foods into your diet - think 80% whole unprocessed foods and allow 20% for those social events and treats.

4. Don't demonise foods or be overly restrictive with your food intake. Aim to avoid the 'all or nothing' approach and find the balance that works for you.

Micheál Penston is the Head Coach at FM Fitness & Nutrition based in Westport, Co Mayo. They specialize in helping busy men and women to create the healthiest versions of themselves through educating and empowering around all areas of their lifestyle from fitness, nutrition, recovery and behaviours. You can grab a FREE copy of the 5 Stage Health & Fitness Kickstarter or find out more about their online and in person coaching methods at or social media handles @fmfitnessnutrition


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