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Why calories don’t matter

Published on December 21, 2017

Why calories don’t matter

Briana Traut, Registered Dietitian 
CentraCare Weight Management

Why calories don't matterIt is so easy to get caught up in how many calories we are consuming daily, especially if we are wanting to lose a few pounds. We can become so focused on the quantity of food, instead of the quality of our food.

Imagine eating 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of ice cream. Do these 1,000 calories have the same effect on our bodies and provide us the same nutrition? Not necessarily.

In a laboratory setting, 1,000 calories of broccoli and 1,000 calories of ice cream do indeed release the same amount of energy. However, our bodies are complex systems and the same number of calories from different types of food can have very different biological effects.

Food offers not only calories to fuel our body, but it contains many different components that play important roles in how our body functions. Food provides macronutrients which are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Macronutrients provide calories to help fuel our bodies and give us energy.

Food also provides micronutrients, which are vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Micronutrients are nutrients that are required in small quantities to carry out a wide variety of functions within our bodies. A lot of our micronutrients come from colorful fruits and vegetables, so there is truth to the statement “eat the rainbow.” It is better to eat a little of a lot of colors, instead of a lot of only one color. This is because different colors provide different micronutrients.

The food we eat is information for our bodies, not just energy. It’s not only how many calories you consume, it’s what makes up those calories that is key. 

Diet No. 1

  • Breakfast: Doughnut and coffee
  • Lunch: Fast food burger and fries
  • Dinner: Frozen pizza

This diet contains processed foods that are full of refined carbohydrates, simple sugars and unhealthy fats.

Diet No. 2

  • Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and whole wheat toast with almond butter
  • Lunch: Ground turkey with fajita vegetables, brown rice and avocado
  • Dinner: Grilled chicken with broccoli and sweet potatoes 
  • Snacks: Almonds, string cheese, raw veggies with hummus

This diet contains minimally processed foods, lean protein sources, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, good sources of fiber and healthy sources of fat.

Both diets consist of around 1,500 calories. But take it a step further and look at the nutrition provided by those 1,500 calories.

Before you do your grocery shopping, look for recipes and plan meals for your family. Remember, a calorie is not just a calorie.

Health information accessed through is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We strive to present reliable, up-to-date health information on our web site and “For the Health of It” blog. However, this information is not intended for the purpose of diagnosing or prescribing. Please contact your health care provider if you have any concerns or questions about specific content that may affect your health. Log in to MyChart to send a secure message to your provider.

About the Author

Briana Traut

Briana Traut, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian
CentraCare Weight Management

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