General Health News & Research

Calories! All are Not Created Equal

Calories vs. Nutrients

Think about the last time you got gorged on a roll of cookies. It might have been one of those days where there was a lot of working, walking, and basically doing so much stuff that eating those cookies was highly deserved. That feels good, but, an hour later, there is the sensation of hunger again…

Now try to remember that last steak dinner that was barely finished because it was sooo big. Why did it seem that it took a longer time for the hunger feelings to kick in again, when compared with that roll of cookies?

The answer is nutrient density, or how many nutrients are packed into each calorie present in the food. Nutrients are different from calories, they accompany the calories. Nutrients include all of the much needed vitamins, minerals and fats that the body uses to operate.

The cookies are packed with sugar, and some fats, and are high in calories. It has a lot of energy but it does not have a lot of the nutrients that the steak dinner had. The steak dinner had iron, protein, potassium from the vegetables and good fats. The steak does have a lot of calories but also has all of the nutrients.

Those cookies will give you a short burst of energy and leave you hungry for more. The cookies are missing something important when it comes to utilizing energy. They lack potassium to regulate blood pressure and keep muscles from cramping. Those cookies will not help in transporting oxygen to the cells like the iron in the steak dinner does. The body can move with energy, but with nutrients, the body will move faster and longer, and with less inflammation.

Let’s assume that this steak is grass-fed. That means that this steak has all the nutrients that a grass fed cow gets from eating its’ regular diet. That means that the meat is healthier and even tastier and richer in healthy essential fats. So with the energy comes the ability to build and maintain muscles because of the added protein. Then there are the fats to lubricate joints and keep the skin covering all those fantastic muscles, healthy and beautiful. This steak dinner is looking even better than that roll of cookies.

Okay, so we have covered what the difference is between a steak dinner and a roll of cookies. We know that the steak dinner has a lot of nutrients compared to that roll of cookies. So what is the difference that occurs in the body? Hunger!

Hunger is the driving force that dictates our need to eat. An empty stomach will tell a person that it needs to be filled with food. That roll of cookies might be less appealing after a filling steak dinner. Hunger sets in an hour after eating that roll of cookies because the stomach can process the sugar relatively quickly, also, while elevating blood sugar, which isn’t so good.

Traditionally, nutrient dense foods are more complex, and require more time for the digestive system to process. This means that the sensation of hunger takes much longer to come because steak dinners do not move as quickly through the digestive system and do not elevate blood sugar the way starches and carbs do.

Consider a study published in the Nutrition Journal about nutrient density and hunger. The study found that “It appears that a high nutrient density diet, after an initial phase of adjustment during which a person experiences “toxic hunger” due to withdrawal from pro-inflammatory foods, can result in a sustainable eating pattern that leads to weight loss and improved health.” This is fascinating, because, apparently, the body goes through withdrawal symptoms before adjusting to the benefits of a nutrient dense diet. This means that if someone is accustomed to eating more ‘rolls of cookies’ as compared to ‘steak dinners,’ the body will feel symptoms of withdrawal if that person changes to eating more ‘steak dinners’ than ‘rolls of cookies.’ In this study, it also found that after this withdrawal period, the body stabilized and adjusted to the healthier nutrient dense diet. It lead to the study participants losing weight and improved health.

So consider the idea of nutrient dense foods. As a general rule, processed foods will be less nutrient dense. Stick to proteins, vegetables, low glycemic fruits, and good amounts of fat. You will feel more satisfied and your body will thank you for it.

Furhman, J., Sarter, B., Glaser, D., Acocella, S. “Changing Perceptions of Hunger on a High Nutrient Density Diet.” Nutrition Journal 9 (2010): 51. Print.