Medical Misconception: All Calories Are Created Equal

Each month we set the facts straight regarding a popular health and wellness myth.

This month’s misconception: All calories are created equal.

A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Whether it’s from carbohydrate, protein or fat, they’re all the same.

That is true in the most technical sense. But when it comes to good health, wellness and nutrition, that thinking is outdated.

“For a lot of people, the focus for many years to lose or maintain weight was ‘eat this many calories, burn this many calories,’ but it’s not that simple,” explains Barb Walsh, R.D., community nutrition educator at the Tevis Center for Wellness. “From a health and wellness perspective, 100 calories from a bag of potato chips is much different than 100 calories from yogurt and some strawberries.”

Our body needs other nutrients—such as magnesium, phosphate, folate, potassium and B vitamins—to effectively use the energy we take in, regardless of the source of the calories, she explains. And when we consume junk food—chips, candy, cookies, soda and the like—we’re getting calories, but not the nutrition needed to fuel our bodies. “Whether you’re looking to lose weight, maintain weight or just stay healthy, you’re always better off getting your caloric intake from nutrient-dense energy sources,” says Walsh.

Instead of counting calories, she encourages individuals to evaluate the quality of the foods they are eating. Consider these side dishes: French fries vs. a brown rice pilaf. If you choose the pilaf, “automatically you’re making a choice that is more nutrient dense, with more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” she says.

Eating whole grains, whole foods, and more fruits and vegetables is a way to start incorporating more high quality food into your diet. When you eat those, by nature you start to exclude unhealthier foods because you are filling up on healthy food, Walsh says. If you’re looking to lose weight, you will not experience quick weight loss, but you will improve your health. Adding exercise to the mix will help you to lose weight.

Walsh also reminds us that small changes do add up to results. Making healthier snack choices and switching to whole wheat pasta, bread and rice from their white counterparts are all ways to get more nutrients in your body and a healthier you.

Making a plan to eat well, getting the right types of food into the house and involving your whole family in the process are just some ways to start on the right path to good nutrition, she says.

Looking for new, healthy recipes to try? Check out the recipes on our blog or our new Cooking for Wellness cooking classes! Learn more at or call Care Connect at 410-871-7000.


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