Not all Calories are the Same

Lisa Austin Nutrition Related Leave a Comment

Please stand up if you have ever been confused about the information thrown at you from commercials, the local news, or your co-worker who just started a new type of diet that’s the next best thing. I bet there are a lot of people standing right side me. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with information and advertisements made to entice us to purchase their products because they are low calorie, low in saturated fats, high in fibre, etc. Well, I’m going to try to simplify it a bit for you over the next little while.


Today it’s all about the macros

Our bodies burn calories for fuel. We get those calories from macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Micronutrients are where we get our vitamins from (more on those another time). In order for our bodies to run smoothly with lots of energy and all our systems running at top form, we must get the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in our diets for our daily energy requirements.

Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram

Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred and most efficient energy source. The Institute of Medicine recommends we eat 45-65% of our daily caloric intake from carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down in the digestive process than simple carbohydrates and are therefore more filling than simple carbs.

Using your hand for portion sizes is a simpler way to know you are getting enough. Carbohydrates can be broken down into one fist size for vegetables and one cupped hand for complex carbohydrates for a balanced meal.

Simple carbohydrates: Sugar, which is one glucose molecule, comes in the form of table sugar, honey, corn syrups, molasses, fruit sugar (fructose), milk sugar (lactose), fruit juice, etc.


Complex carbohydrates: Starches, which are multi-chain glucose molecules, come in the form of bread, rice, pasta, grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, corn, yams, beans and lentils, as well as whole fruit and milk products.


Proteins = 4 calories per gram

Protein is the building block of our body’s cells and tissues. Your diet should consist of 10 to 35% of your calories from protein depending on your activity level and your goals. The more active you are, the more energy you will use on a daily basis, the more protein you need to help your body repair itself. Your palm is the portion size for your meals.

There are two main types of protein: plant and animal. Plant proteins are considered to be an incomplete protein because they do not contain all nine of the essential amino acids and need to be combined to make a complete protein. Animal proteins are complete proteins.

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Fat = 9 calories per gram

At 9 calories per gram, it doesn’t take much to get to the daily recommended amount. Fats are a good thing in moderation. They provide essential fatty acids and our bodies need them in order for us to utilize the benefits of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K.

National guidelines say we are to ingest less than 30% of total calories from fat, with only 10% or less from saturated fats. There are two different kinds of fats: saturated and unsaturated.

Saturated fats are typically animal fats and are usually solid at room temperature. The only two vegetable fats that are saturated are coconut oil and palm oil. These are the fats we want to avoid where we can.


Unsaturated fats have positive health effects and come from liquid plant sources. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known to help lower cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats have shown to result in the most benefits. Foods such as walnuts, soybean oil, monounsaturated olive and canola oils, are unsaturated fats. That doesn’t give you the go-ahead to have a cup a day, look at your thumb for the portion size. Even for nuts, that is all you need and is plenty to tide you over to your next meal.


Our bodies need fats. When our bodies make a new cell they need to be wrapped in fat for protection against certain substances. Without eating any fat, our ability to make new cells is compromised and we may age prematurely. Eating zero fat or very low fat can cause many imbalances within the body because we also use fat for making hormones.

What does it all mean?

Each of the macronutrients play a role in our day-to-day lives. If we don’t get enough of each of them, we may not notice it right away but it will eventually show itself in how we look, feel, perform, rest, and play. If you aren’t happy in one or more of those areas… look at your diet. If you aren’t sure where to start, look at getting an app to track your food for a while until you learn how much you should be eating. There are numerous apps you can get for your phone. I personally like the app Meallogger. You can track your food by using your hand as a guide for your portions and it will show you how that equates to your overall daily intake.

When people are just starting to be aware of their eating I encourage my clients to always eat a protein and a carb together as it will stay in your system longer keeping you satiated longer and without the crash like when you snack on carbs like bagels, donuts, chips or chocolate bars. Protein stays in our stomach for two hours and fat stays in our stomach for three to five hours, while carbohydrates will stay up to one hour by themselves.

Learning how all food has a place in our diets is really important for long-lasting results. Food is not bad. It will, however, take you closer to your goals or farther from them, depending on whether or not you are keeping them balanced throughout your day to day eating.

Along with personal training, I can also do nutrition coaching that can help you make sense of eating for your goals, and what healthy will be for you. Let’s connect to see how we can get you started.

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