It’s not the amount of calories which matters: it’s the type
The idea that a calorie is a calorie irrespective of what food it comes from is simply wrong. It’s even possible that this misconception is one of the underlying causes of the current weight and obesity epidemic.
We now know that it is the hormonal response generated by a food which has the biggest impact on body fat and weight gain and not the amount of calories that it contains.
A small study conducted on 69 overweight men and women clearly demonstrates that the “all calories are equal” belief is a myth.
First: what is glycemic load?
Glycemic load is literally the “blood sugar” load which a food is calculated to have. You might be familiar with the glycemic index or GI. This measures how quickly 50gms of carbohydrate from a food is released into your blood stream. This is a helpful guide but fails to tell us what sort of impact a real food has on our blood sugar levels. After all, we eat the whole thing and not just extracted carbohydrates from a food.
The glycaemic load is the measurement that the normal serving of a food has on your blood sugar level. This is a much more accurate way of deciding which food is good for you and which might be a problem.
For example: cooked carrots have a medium glycemic index of 50 but the glycemic load is very low at just 2. If you were to follow the glycemic index, you might think that you should restrict your carrot intake, but once you know that the load on your body is actually pretty low, you can feel happy to eat them freely.
Another way of looking at this is that the glycemic index is more of a theoretical measurement whereas glycemic load is what actually happens when you eat the food.
The study participants were separated into two groups and given a diet in which the amount of calories was the same but the glycemic load was different. After eight weeks on the diet, the people that had eaten the low glycemic load diet had 11% less visceral fat than those that had eaten the high glycemic load diet.
What does this mean?
It means that even though they ate the same amount of calories, only the people that ate foods which put less pressure on the blood sugar and insulin response lost the type of abdominal fat that is associated with heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The same groups of people were then put on a calorie restricted diet and again separated into a high glycemic load or low glycemic load diet. While the amount of weight lost after 8 weeks was the same between the groups, the people that ate a low glycemic load diet had lost 4.4% more body fat than the other group.
What does this mean?
This means that even if the amount of weight you lose is the same, following a low glycemic diet leads to more body fat being burnt.
What to remember
The concept of counting calories is quickly becoming a thing of the past as the research and people’s own experience shows that it is the type of food and not the amount which matters.
It’s my opinion that it’s impossible to follow a low calorie diet and still obtain a healthy amount of fat. This study certainly shows us that reducing the types of food which increase blood sugar levels will have a much more significant effect on long term health than counting calories, even if the weight loss is the same.
Goss AM1, Goree LL, Ellis AC, Chandler-Laney PC, Casazza K, Lockhart ME, Gower BA.
Effects of diet macronutrient composition on body composition and fat distribution during weight maintenance and weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Jun;21(6):1139-42.