Written by Nyomi Graef
When I was at university studying my nutrition degree in the '90s, I learnt about calories. I was taught that all calories are equal; it doesn’t matter where they come from. A calorie is a calorie. Just consume less calories than we burn up, and we will lose weight. Fat contains more calories per gram than both carbohydrates and protein, so to lose weight, keep our fat intake low.
Fast forward more than 20 years and many leading health experts are disproving the notion that all calories are equal. Yes, calories play a role in body weight – portion sizes matter. But research shows that not all calories are equal, and where we get our calories from counts. The calories from fat, carbohydrates and protein affect our bodies differently. Consuming too much added sugar, in particular, is linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases. So for better health and easier weight loss, a low intake of added sugars from food and drinks is key.
What are some of the leading health experts saying about the effect of calories on health and body weight? Endocrinologist and obesity expert Professor Robert Lustig explains his research on calories, and how calories differ in his article Do you believe a calorie is a calorie? Below is an excerpt from Dr Lustig's article:
“Calories from added sugar are different from other calories, and are jeopardizing health worldwide. And yes that includes honey, syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Excess added sugar leads to, diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease, unrelated to its calories. Avoid processed foods and sodas; they’re loaded with added sugar.
There's an irrefutable link shown between diabetes and added sugar.
... We found that total caloric availability was unrelated to diabetes prevalence; for every extra 150 calories per day, diabetes prevalence rose by only 0.1 percent. But if those 150 calories were from added sugar, diabetes prevalence rose 11-fold, by 1.1 percent.”
Associate professor Dariush Mozaffarian, from Harvard Medical School, has a similar point of view about calories as Dr Lustig, for instance both say that not all calories are the same, and there is more to weight gain than simply consuming more calories than we use.
According to Anahad O’Connor, from the New York Times, Dr Mozaffarian “said that the long-held idea that we get fat solely because we consume more calories than we expend is based on outdated science.
He [Dr Mozaffarian] has studied the effects that different foods have on weight gain and said that it is true that 100 calories of fat, protein and carbohydrates are the same in a thermodynamic sense, in that they release the same amount of energy when exposed to a Bunsen burner in a lab. But in a complex organism like a human being, he said, these foods influence satiety [the feeling of fullness], metabolic rate, brain activity, blood sugar and the hormones that store fat in very different ways.”
Read more about Dr Mozaffarian’s work, and other health experts’ views about calories, health and weight gain, in O’Connor’s article ‘Fed Up’ Asks, Are All Calories Equal?
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, also summarises the concept of calories being different. She says:
“It is true that fat has more calories than carbohydrates, including sugar. But by that logic, a sugary beverage is better for you than a handful of nuts. That’s just not what the unbiased studies have shown. Looking only at calories ignores the metabolic effects of each calorie; the source of the calorie changes how you digest it and how you retrieve energy from it.”
For more details check out Spell's article There’s no sugar-coating it: All calories are not created equal.
Mark Hyman, MD, also wrote an article explaining how calories aren’t all created equal. To illustrate this concept, he discussed how consuming the same number of calories from broccoli and soft drink have vastly different effects on the body. In summary, the calories from soft drink are unhealthy, and can harm us, but the calories from broccoli are healthy. After explaining the differences in more detail, Dr Hyman wrote that:
“In a study of 154 countries that looked at the correlation of calories, sugar, and diabetes, scientists found that adding 150 calories a day to the diet barely raised the risk of diabetes in the population, but if those 150 calories came from soda, the risk of diabetes went up by 700 percent.
Some calories are addictive, others healing, some fattening, some metabolism-boosting. That’s because food doesn’t just contain calories, it contains information. Every bite of food you eat broadcasts a set of coded instructions to your body—instructions that can create either health or disease.”
For more details read Dr Hyman’s article Why Calories Don’t Matter.
So to lose weight and be healthy, consume a low amount of calories from added sugar, and most calories from vegetables and other healthy unprocessed and minimally processed foods, healthy fat and healthy sources of protein.
How much added sugar a day is recommended? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults and children reduce their total energy a day from free sugars to less than 10 per cent of total calorie intake. “A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.”
What are free sugars? The WHO says that free sugars are sugars “... added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
“We [the WHO] have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”
The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.”
Read the WHO’s recommendations about sugar at https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
Want more information about calories? Check out the following article, video and TEDx talk:
Kris Gunnars’ Healthline article 6 Reasons Why a Calorie Is Not a Calorie.
Dr Jason Fung discusses how not all calories are the same in the short video titled Counting calories is a ridiculous way to try and lose weight. The video is part-way through the NBC News article A diet for fast weight loss is a pipe dream. So why do we all keep buying in? Dr Fung also explains what happens to our bodies when we reduce our calorie intake.
Neuroscientist Krzysztof Czaja explains calories in the TEDx talk Why diets fail; it's not what you think. Hear how rats fed different amounts of fat and sugar gained different amounts of body fat. The rats on a high-sugar diet gained more weight than the rats on the low sugar-diet, despite the rats on the high-sugar diet eating less calories.
Written by Nyomi Graef
How important is breakfast for weight loss? Well, not surprisingly, as with many areas of health, different experts have different opinions. It depends on what studies they cite/their own research, knowledge, beliefs, and so on. Let’s take last month, for instance: I posted on my business Facebook page a recent ABC News article, by Tim Spector and Jeff Leach, about how research has found that eating breakfast appears to not help everyone lose weight. Lauren O’Callaghan, from Express Newspapers, however, wrote earlier this month that: "... those who do eat breakfast are more successful with weight loss, losing more weight and keeping it off more successfully than those who don’t." Lauren goes on to say that: "... Suzy Weems, a registered dietitian and professor of family and consumer sciences at Baylor University, explained: "You should eat at least 250 to 300 calories at breakfast."" WebMD reports that Professor Weems says: "You can’t have Twinkies and coffee and expect to slim down, or even maintain weight loss. The food you choose matters." WebMD says: "... more than 75% of people who lose more than 30 pounds and keep it off eat the morning meal every single day."
So what’s my view on breakfast and weight loss? Body weight is affected by far more than just whether or not we eat breakfast. Over time, the quality, quantity, timing and frequency of our food and drink intake all affect our body weight. Add to this (and this list is not exhaustive) our health, individual biochemistry, genes, medication, and the type, frequency and duration of exercise that we do. It’s complex!
Skipping breakfast, and breakfasts that increase the risk of weight gain
We encourage weight gain if we often miss breakfast and then eat/overeat on junk food later on. Also, eating doughnuts, sugary muffins/muffins made with refined flour, and high sugar/low fibre/highly processed breakfast cereals for breakfast, for instance, is bad for our health and our weight. (Of course these foods all increase our risk of weight gain regardless of when we eat them). They contain few vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients. They are high in sugar/bad fat/white flour/unhealthy additives, so they can be viewed as a desert wasteland in terms of their nutritional value. Avoid them! They promote weight gain!
Benefits of eating a healthy breakfast
Healthy breakfasts can have heaps of benefits, such as:
Good breakfast choices
Choose good quality wholefoods for breakfast that are low in added sugar and low in white flour, but have good amounts of healthy fat. And eat enough fibre and protein at breakfast time. Why? Many reasons. To name just a few:
What are some good foods to eat for breakfast? Great choices include free-range eggs, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, kale, broccoli, spinach, quinoa, nuts, and fresh fruit such as bananas and fresh berries.
Still thinking about skipping breakfast? Remember that the quality of our breakfasts is vital. The researchers of a study of breakfast, on nearly 530 Spanish adolescents, sum it up well. The authors write that their results: "... indicate the importance of eating a good quality breakfast, rather than just having or not having breakfast."
On a final note, remember that having healthy eating and drinking patterns throughout the day and night is also important. And although breakfast is just one meal in our day, make it a healthy one. Meals all add up to affect our body weight, health, happiness, work and recreation.
Bayley, B, 2018, Easy health hack: a late breakfast is Michael Mosley’s secret, SBS, https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2016/09/20/easy-health-hack-late-breakfast-michael-mosleys-secret-weapon
Ferrer-Cascales, R. et al., 2018, Eat or Skip Breakfast? The Important Role of Breakfast Quality for Health-Related Quality of Life, Stress and Depression in Spanish Adolescents, Int J Environ Res Public Health, Aug; 15(8): 1781, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6121474/
Newman, D, 2018, The Benefits of Eating Breakfast, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/many-benefits-breakfast?fbclid=IwAR0JNFVoclWFqBc9-dJ5q8oe-WNnuEAnFzkJcNWoFNv2unJkzIbGXkrAvhY#1
Noe Pagán, C, 2018, Can breakfast help you lose weight?, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/breakfast-lose-weight#1
O’Callaghan, L, 2019, Weight loss diet: Best breakfast to eat to lose weight without feeling hungry, Express Newspapers, https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/diets/1101250/weight-loss-diet-plan-breakfast
Spector, T and Leach, J, 2019, What if the benefits of breakfast are just another diet myth?, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-01/skipping-breakfast-health-benefits-eating-early-lunch-diet/10767446
Written by Nyomi Graef
What comes to mind when we say that we’re “going on a diet”? Something to go on until we lose some weight? Another hassle in our lives? Another thing we could fail at? Most of us are probably aware that most weight loss diets don’t work long term. Why don’t they work? Long-term nutrition and other lifestyle changes need long-term solutions. Fad diets/unappealing diets/unsustainable diets, and so on, won’t last. We must make healthy eating and other positive lifestyle habits affordable, practical and sustainable. And we must make positive lifestyle habits enjoyable — habits that we want to do, and do regularly.
How do we stop a bad habit? In a nutshell, first identify the bad habit that we want to stop, then swap it with a better behaviour. Now regularly practise this new behaviour so that it becomes a habit that we do as a normal part of our lifestyle. Easy yeah? It’s obviously harder than it sounds. But if we really want to be happier and healthier, long-term positive changes are vital. Read the following ideas to conquer bad lifestyle habits and master new good ones.
Identify the bad habit that you want to stop
Also acknowledge that the habit is bad, and that it’s important to stop doing it.
Know why it’s best to stop the habit
Write down the positive reasons for stopping and read them at least a few times throughout the day everyday. They might include better health, more energy to keep up with your family, feeling more attractive, higher self-confidence and higher self-esteem.
Set higher standards for yourself
Settle for low standards and you won’t change for the better. To live a better quality of life, set yourself higher standards of living. You are worth it.
Believe that you can break the habit
Self-belief is vital for success.
Know the nature of the habit
For greater success at kicking your bad habit know:
Select at least one new good behaviour to replace the bad habit
This new behaviour must fill the gap in your life that the old habit has left. This gap can be physical/mental/emotional/spiritual. Good alternatives to bad habits can include a hobby/pastime such as gardening, reading, arts and craft, volunteer work, and playing an instrument and a sport. Be creative! (Warning, it might take time to enjoy your new behaviour or pastime. You might feel a sense of loss while the old habit is going, or after it has gone. Be strong!)
Set one or more SMART goals for the new behaviour
SMART stands for many things; a common one is specific, measurable, attractive, realistic and time bound. Set small goals on the way to your larger goals. Breaking down goals into manageable steps increases your chances of success. Examples of SMART goals are: “By 31 March this year I will be eating at least 5 serves of veggies a day at least 5 days a week” and “By the end of April this year I will be going for a walk for at least 30 minutes 4 days a week.”
Reinforce the new behaviour often so that it becomes a habit
The new behaviour needs to become a habit. This takes time. It can take at least a few weeks of regular effort to make a new behaviour a habit.
Regularly track how you are going with your goals
People who often monitor their progress are more likely to achieve their goals than people who don’t monitor it.
Stop, or at least reduce, as many triggers of the bad habit as you can
For example, spend more time with people who practise the same behaviour that you want to adopt, instead of those that engage in the behaviour that you want to stop. We can become like the people that we associate with.
Change your environment to increase success
Move junk food to the back of your pantry and fridge, and healthier food to the front. Have a full fruit bowl instead of junk food on your table. (Stay tuned for more ideas in the future to help set you up for success.)
Persist, be patient, and commit to change
The path of positive change can get tough. Persist! Keep the good reasons for change in your mind to inspire and motivate you to keep going. And, like I said above, read these reasons daily.
Imagine (visualise) often that you are happy practising the new behaviour
What we imagine often can (within reason) happen because thoughts are creative. Imagine in detail how you feel when you have your new habit, where you will be, who you are with and so on. Always make what you imagine positive.
Plan in advance for problems, and know ways to overcome them
You’re more prepared for set-backs, and more likely to stay on the road to success.
Reward yourself when you succeed
Rewards don’t have to be big nor expensive. Watching a movie, eating at a café with a friend, and playing computer games with friends are just three of many possible rewards.
Get help, if you need it
A friend, family member, coach, book and so on can be good sources of ideas, inspiration and encouragement. You are never alone. Help is just an email, phone call or message... away.
Breaking bad habits and replacing them with new good habits takes time, effort, persistence and patience. Put in the time and effort — the you that you want to be depends on it.