A Calorie Is Not a Calorie

by Matthew Hall

How many of you have ever counted calories before? Have you ever looked at a book that specializes in 300-calorie meals but promises that they will keep you full and satisfied? Many food chains now post the calorie content of their products, and more and more people are reading the labels on foods and deciding whether or not to eat something based on that. While it is great that people are beginning to take note of the caloric value of the foods they choose to eat, there can be a pitfall in basing your diet solely around that first number on the nutrition panel. Simply stated, this is because all calories are not created equal.

In the title I suggested that “a calorie is not a calorie,” and there are multiple facets to this statement. Things like frozen “diet” meals are a good example of how something can be “low calorie” but still not “healthy.” Eating a microwave pizza the size of your fist that is so processed that it somehow has no fat, fiber, protein, or vitamins is not healthy, even if it is only 350 calories. Calories are not what makes something healthy or not, it is the quality of those calories. A good example of this would be nuts. Almonds are what many people would consider a “high calorie” food if they only read the product label. At 180 calories in a handful, some people would opt out of eating them. But in reality, these calories come from healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Compare this to a snack pack of potato chips, which has roughly 150 calories, but around 20g of carbohydrates, 0 fiber, and 3g of saturated fat. The chips have fewer calories, but are of no nutritional value to your body.

When you eat a diet based on proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, your body is getting what it needs to function. You will still be getting carbohydrates, even if you eat little to no bread, and you will “feel full” because you will be able to eat more! Think about it this way, 1 cup of broccoli has 30 calories (from the 2.5g of protein, 2g of fiber, and 6g of carbohydrates). You could eat two filling cups of broccoli and still be at less than half of the calories of a single slice of French bread, which is comprised of mainly fast-digesting carbohydrates that won’t help you “feel full” for any amount of time.

So for anyone who might be struggling with their weight despite counting their calories and eating prepackaged low-calorie entrees, you may want to try a new approach. For each meal, try to eat one source of lean protein and one to two servings of fruits or vegetables. For two snacks in  between meals, try to eat nuts, fruits, and vegetables. When your body gets the nutrition it needs, you will feel better and will likely shed a few unwanted pounds!

Matthew Hall is currently an Operations Specialist for Howard County Library System and a student at Liberty University.

He spends the majority of his free time with his wife and kids. His interests include religious studies, psychology, and fitness.



  1. Thank you for posting this! I definitely agree.

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