In 1918, when Lulu Hunt Peters published her best-selling “Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories,” she was offering American women her personal solution to being overweight. After Peters earned her medical degree from Berkeley in 1908, she decided to use calorie counting and self-control to cure her lifelong struggle with obesity. Her solution helped her shed 32 kilograms (70.5 pounds!) and America’s hard-to-shake belief that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie was launched.
For decades, nutritionists said that to lose weight and keep it off, you must take in fewer calories daily than you burn. While that is kind of true, recently we’ve begun to unravel the more complex ways that different nutrients and substances affect your metabolism, appetite, blood sugar, gut biome, immune system and inflammation level. As a result, we now know that the source of your calories (and when you eat them) matters for many aspects of your health and well-being: your weight, your cognition, your mood, your cardio system, your digestion, your microbiome, your longevity and even your sex life!
A hundred calories of the following nutrients exert wildly different effects on the body:
100 calories of lean protein: Found in fish and skinless poultry, legumes, nonfat dairy, tofu, nuts, egg whites and whole grains, lean proteins help control appetite and weight, steady blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes and build muscle.
100 calories of red and processed meat: These boost inflammation, damage weight-controlling gut bacteria, increase your risk of heart disease and some cancers, and can contribute to dementia and sexual dysfunction.
100 calories of complex unrefined carbohydrates: Found in 100 percent whole grains (1/2 cup brown rice) and fresh produce (5 cups of broccoli or 1 1/4 cups blueberries), complex carbs and the fiber they contain support “good” gut bacteria. That helps control weight, protects the production of mood-influencing neurotransmitters like serotonin; reduces bodywide inflammation that triggers heart disease; bolsters your immune system; helps protect your digestive system from inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and more!
100 calories of simple carbohydrates: Refined sugars, sugar syrups (high fructose corn syrup, for example), white bread, pastas, sweet sodas and sugar-added juices, snacks, desserts and baked goods are surefire proof that a calorie is NOT a calorie -- despite the lobbying efforts of the sugar industry to convince the public that added sugar is not a serious health risk and trigger for obesity. These carbs directly contribute to the development of inflammation, insulin resistance, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and promote killer belly fat.
100 calories of EVOO: Healthy fats like mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in extra-virgin olive oil and sunflower oil, and omega-3 fatty acids like DHA (in salmon) and ALA (in walnuts) help you achieve a younger RealAge inside and out by reducing inflammation and promoting a healthy gut biome (making it easier to control your weight), keeping arteries clear and helping prevent wrinkles.
100 calories of saturated or trans fat: Sat fat is found in animal protein (especially in red and processed meats), tropical oils, dairy products and eggs -- all calorie-dense foods that contribute to weight gain. Excess intake raises artery-clogging lousy LDL cholesterol levels. It is also associated with foods (like lunch meats) that boost bodywide inflammation -- a sure risk for a wide range of diseases.
Trans fats, also called partially hydrogenated fats, are truly destructive. They turn up in prepared and baked goods, and a Harvard study found for every 2 percent of calories from trans fats consumed daily your risk of heart disease goes up 23 percent -- which means that in a 1,800-calorie-a-day diet, every 36 calories (4 grams) of trans fats you eat takes you that much closer to a heart attack!
So the next time you take a bite, remember that it’s not just how many calories you consume, it’s the foods that contain those calories that make a difference to your weight and your overall health.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit www.sharecare.com.