Are all calories created equal?

Does it matter where the calories are coming from?

Following on from the 'is the caloric equation a sham' blog I'm going to dig around a bit in the 'are all calories equal' nexus.

For the purposes of my investigation I'm going to compare the calories in two substances.  I'm going to compare the ingestion of 1 glass of orange juice and the caloric equivalent in oranges.  Here's the maths;

1 large (I'm a big chap - so it's large all the way for me) of McDonalds orange juice =

 mcdonalds juice personal trainer nutrition

The equivalent calories in raw commercial oranges =3.5 oranges

raw orange nutrition personal trainer

[1 piece of fruit yields 86 grams of juice so I need 3.5 oranges to get the equivalency for the juice]

personal training nutrition orange yields for juice

So, let us begin.  I have in front of me these things;

personal trainer nutrition mcdonalds juice cuppersonal training nutrition 3 oranges

Let's start with the McDonald's orange juice.

I drink one of these in 2-3 minutes - sweet delicious nectar, presented cold, with a straw to aid my efforts. 

This stuff hits my stomach in just seconds, has no fibre or fat, and the significant 58 grams (10 teaspoons) of fructose are off to my liver for some processing within 30 minutes.  There, my liver processes it and if I don't need any glycogen, it's likely fat city.  Fructose is not the best of sugars as it has no glucose tracking system.  They say we evolved in almost a 'fructose free' environment.  More on the trouble sugar brings us all another day.

So, what do I have so far.  No nutrient value other than a bang of vitamin C (about 50% of daily allowance) a whallop of fructose to trouble my liver (remember, the liver has a fixed capacity so the same way you don't want to abuse it with alcohol you don't really want to trouble it with large doses of fructose either) and all this in short time frames (that's what happens when you strip out the fibre).  The quick digestion of this causes a spike in two things.  One is vitamin C (expensive urine coming as this a water soluble vitamin) and the other is insulin (in response to the blood sugar).

So, for the calories I get a thermonuclear explosion of a hormone which seems to be the root cause of many long term issues (syndrome X, diabetes) and expensive pee.

I move on to my three oranges. 

personal training nutrition 3 oranges

I eat three oranges, let's say in 6 mins (2 minutes each to peel and quaff).  By the time I eat the third I'm feeling kind of full and sweet enough to be honest.  But I push through.

What's making me feel full.  Well the 12 grams of fibre for one thing (54% of my RDI in one sitting by the way).  Why am I getting sweet overload - it's the mouth.  Sweet is a huge sensation across the mouth (which is why we have sweet and sour - sweet will tame almost any other taste) and these orange segments explode and broaden the flavour hit.  Not so with the orange juice squirted half way down my mouth with the straw and even if I drank it normally most of the sweet quickly passes across the tongue and away.

The fibre also slows the digestion down a lot.  1-2 hours later I'm getting a steady stream of fructose, a small insulin response and a stead supply of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium (all that pulp fibre has some extra love in it), and a smidgen of iron for my efforts.

Okay, so all I've done so far is establish that calories don't come in the same packages - nature's packaging is the best.  But what is really happening here with how my body is responding to the calories. 

hormones in personal trainingFirstly, the likelihood of storing fat is directly associated to insulin levels.  Insulin is the mac daddy of hormones (working on a hormonal axis with glucagon) designed to get energy stored - all energy.  So, when insulin spikes you get glycogen being stored and fat being stored.  Perfect sense in our evolutionary past, but a real nightmare in our abundant present.  So, if you drink juice (58 grams at a time) you better be ready for belly fat.  If you eat the equivalent calories in oranges, you needn't be as concerned.  Even though the calorie content is the same, my body is reacting differently because of how the calories are digested - one a roller coaster ride with a fat landing, the other a steady as she goes buzz with no conceivable detriment.

Secondly, research in to diabetes has shown that maintaining low insulin levels has both a direct impact on morbidity (read, living with a sad face) and mortality.  The lower your insulin is consistently (i.e. keeping it in a low range) the better your chances of more life.  All sugars in nature are packaged naturally with fibre (be it seeds, husks, pulp, any form of cellulose really) - you just can't find free sugars floating around fluid (honey is about as close as you'd get but you'd need to be rather game to go after that).  So, eat fruit and you'll be okay despite the calories.  The fat is available for burning (because inslulin says low), the sweet tooth is satisfied, the satiety lasts (whole fruit is significantly better at delaying the desire to eat again than juice) and you get a bunch of bonuses all along for the ride.

Oh, and you save your bowel some trouble too.  That indigestible fibre.  That's going through and keeping your colon (less cancer) healthy too!

To summarise;

All calories are not the same as

  1. they do not cause the same hormonal response which directly effects what your body does with the calories ingested
  2. they come packaged with better nutrition, satiety effects and nutrients whenever nature is involved.


The next question for a blog is; 'should we worry more about hormones than we do about exercise and nutrition'?

Michelle says:
Mar 30, 2015 01:28 PM

so so so awesome, thanks

Steven Gourley
Steven Gourley says:
Feb 03, 2016 05:55 PM

Thanks Michelle. Much appreciated.

Tina says:
Mar 30, 2015 01:29 PM

I just found your website a few weeks ago and I love it! I read the first article and this was a perfect second! How could someone not agree with what you presented? It's science. I really like the Insulin/ Glucagon After Meals chart.

Steven Gourley
Steven Gourley says:
Feb 03, 2016 05:55 PM

Thanks Tina - glad you like it!

Kerri says:
Apr 01, 2015 01:41 AM

Curious how this applies to juicing? I'd rather my clients chew their food for the fiber, (satiety) but one is riding the juicing bandwagon, convinced it is the answer to all health issues. I tend to think it is ok if it is the only way a person will ingest any form of vegetables, but otherwise you are just sucking down mass calories without the benefit of chewing and the satisfaction of actually eating. Thoughts?

Steven Gourley
Steven Gourley says:
Apr 04, 2015 07:36 PM

I agree. If you can blend the lot and ingest the fibre with the sugars then all you've done is made the stuff quicker to ingest. When you juice you process out the good stuff. The other issue with juicing is over consumption, look at the total sugar content from a big smoothie at one of the juice bars in a mall and you are getting a big whack all at once. Nothing beats the real thing.

Steven Gourley
Steven Gourley says:
Feb 03, 2016 06:02 PM

Yes, there's some interesting stuff in this area. There's some research around souping saying it reduces overall intake as the fluid adds volume to the calories that would have otherwise been solids and taken up less space in the gut. On the other hand, I FEEL (note, that's a practitioner term for what I think works without any double bling studies near it) that the consumption of higher fiber items and bulky foods (mmmm, steak) triggers a lot more of the satiety chain. So, you get the chewing, ghrelin and such is released, your food is eaten over time, and the hormones that stop you eating are in place before extra (maybe unnecessary) food is consumed. This is where I think eating solids, and munching your way through log GI has benefits. I blend in the morning and after training sometimes when i'm on the run again (3 kids). But I put egg, banana, a little milk and porridge together so the bulk is there and although I pound the stuff in and head off there's little risk of me eating more as I'm usually busy (which is why I'm blending in the first place). Interesting area given the 'pitches' being made in media. Time will tell. Give me real food, company, and something to do to keep me away from dessert - that's a longer term solution for me.

Nimo says:
Aug 28, 2015 03:01 AM

"The next question for a blog is; 'should we worry more about hormones than we do about exercise and nutrition'?"
Wouldn't it be foolish to separate the three musketeers? I think they all play impotent part with one another.

Steven Gourley
Steven Gourley says:
Feb 03, 2016 05:55 PM

Agree that you can't separate them. The hormones mediate the exercise, stress and nutrition inputs to create change. They are the chemical messengers that carry the footprint of our behaviours forward - moving us every so consistently toward or away from ultimate health.