Ask the Nutritionist: Are All Calories Created Equal? In Other Words, Are All Calories Metabolized Equally by the Body?

DSC_3919-EditCongratulations to last week’s winner, Rochel Kaufman. Submit a question and you can win a free dinner for two at the Reserve Steakhouse ‘heart healthy’ menu ($120 value). The Reserve Sushi and Steakhouse is proud to introduce a new and exciting menu which provides not only delectable ways to please your palate but is actually healthy and conscious of those looking to stay away from saturated fat, cholesterol, carbs, and other poor health choices when eating out.

To submit a question to be featured in the “Ask the Nutritionist” column, email Yossi at [email protected]. Be sure to include your full name. If your question is published, your name will be mentioned and you will be awarded a free dinner for 2 from The Reserve Steakhouse’s brand new ‘heart healthy’ menu.


Are all calories created equal? In other words, are all calories metabolized equally by the body?


No, they are not equal.

Calories are found in 3 types of food – fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Whenever the body consumes more calories than it burns it stores those extra calories as fat, regardless of whether the calories are from fat, carbs or protein.

Why does the body store all calories in the form of fat?

This is because fat is the most condensed form of energy, at nine calories per gram, while protein and carbs are significantly less condensed  at only four calories per gram. It is therefore more efficient to store it in the form of fat as it takes up the least amount of space. If the body were to store excess calories in the form of protein or carbohydrate, people would be HUGE!

This is why an overweight person is called ‘fat’ in the first place. If the body were to store excess calories in the form of protein, an overweight person would be called ‘protein’. Imagine if the body stored extra calories in the form of carbs! The condition of being overweight would be referred to as being ‘carbohydrate’. (“I feel carbohydrate today,” “Does this dress make me look carbohydrate?”)

Now what does this have to do with calories not being created equal?

When the body takes those calories you just ate and stores them as fat, it requires energy and actually burns calories during the process. For the average food, 10 percent of the calories you take in are burned during digestion. Look at this like a 10 percent discount whenever you eat food. But this percentage is not the same for all foods. Fat, because it doesn’t need to be changed in order to be stored as fat, only gets only a 5 percent discount. Carbs, because the body must convert them into fat, gets a 10% discount, and protein gets a whopping 25 percent discount! This is because protein is very complex and requires a lot of energy to metabolize it and convert it into fat. So if you eat a 100 calorie piece of chicken, the body will burn an extra 25 calories just to process and store it.

It’s important to note that as far as health is concerned, the body’s need for carbs and fat greatly surpasses its need for protein. In order to function on an optimum level, a diet high in carbs (the good kind), moderate in fat (again, the good kind) and low in protein is recommended. However, when it comes to weight loss, eating more protein and less carbs is more effective.

Because of this, some people go on high protein/low carb diets. While this method is fine for certain people, one should certainly not cut out carbs entirely. Not only are carbs essential to a healthy body, too much protein can cause a whole host of health complications.

To sum up, metabolism is an intricate topic, and not all calories are metabolized equally by the body. We discussed one example. We will B’H discuss more examples in future articles.

Yossi Muller, CNWC, is a nutritionist with a private practice in Lakewood and also gives a college course in Applied Nutrition. His unique approach to nutrition is reaching hundreds of men in local businesses, schools, and organizations. Yossi can be reached at 732-806-7373. 

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  1. How does this explain how people can eat 5000 calories a day on the Atkins diet? Even if theres a 25 percent discount like you say, its still 4000 calories a day people should be gaining weight, not losing!

  2. @Moish The reason why you lose weight on the Atkins diet has nothing to do with eating protein. It has to do with the fact that you dont eat any carbs. Indeed people eat lots of fat on atkins and still lose weight.
    When you eat zero carbs your body starts burning stored fat at a very quick pace and does severe damage to your internal organs. Plus 62 percent of the weight you lose is water which will come pouring back in a few months into the diet. This diet was discovered 400 years ago but no Dr. publicised it because they did not want to endanger the public until Robert Atkins came along. He made millions, but hurt lots of people.I took nutrition in college btw.

  3. Yossi your high caliber of knowledge baffles me!!your a savior to our community .your unbelivable talents and skill will do away with this unhealthy epidemic among us .yossi you continue to inspire me!!!!may you only have continued hatzlacha and see the fruits that youvve planted!!

  4. If however you do treat yourself every now and then, then I highly recommend the desserts at Reserve, they are unreal, amazing, worth the calories and indulgence on an occasion.

  5. On the topic, the Reserve has a healthy dessert thats not on the menu but you can request it, its a poached pear on a fat free sponge cake with chocolate drizzle in a wine sauce that according to a certain very tall nutritionist (who writes articles for the scoop ) has only 150 calories and is very healthy for a dessert. I order it every time and its amazing!

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