Not all calories are the same

Time to Remind: Not All Calories Are the Same

Yesterday we noted that, with summer in full swing, workplace wellness programs might benefit from reminding employees: Not all calories are the same.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association is titled “The Carbohydrate-Insulin Model of Obesity: Beyond ‘Calories In, Calories Out.’” It states:

“For decades, consideration of ‘energy balance’ has informed efforts to prevent and treat obesity in the clinic and public health arena. Indeed, a recent scientific statement from the Endocrine Society concludes that “the answer to the question, ‘Is a calorie a calorie?’ is ‘yes.’ In other words, diets high in added sugar or other processed carbohydrates should have no special adverse effects on metabolism or body composition, after considering total calorie consumption. However, rates of obesity remain intractably high despite intensive focus on reducing calorie intake (eat less) and increasing calorie expenditure (move more), with major implications to well-being, life-expectancy, and health care costs.”

How does this work?

To begin, not all diets are the same. The authors state: “Despite intensive research, the causes of the obesity epidemic remain incompletely understood and conventional calorie-restricted diets continue to lack long-term efficacy. According to the carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM) of obesity, recent increases in the consumption of processed, high–glycemic-load carbohydrates produce hormonal changes that promote calorie deposition in adipose tissue, exacerbate hunger, and lower energy expenditure. Basic and genetic research provides mechanistic evidence in support of the CIM.”

For well-run workplace wellness programs, this means finding customized ways to communicate about nutrition — understanding differences among individuals.

The authors add: “Meta-analyses of behavioral trials report greater weight loss with reduced-glycemic load vs low-fat diets, though these studies characteristically suffer from poor long-term compliance. Feeding studies have lacked the rigor and duration to test the CIM, but the longest such studies tend to show metabolic advantages for low-glycemic load vs low-fat diets.”

The authors offer practical tips based on the research:

  • “Beyond the type and amount of carbohydrate consumed, the CIM provides a conceptual framework for understanding how many dietary and nondietary exposures might alter hormones, metabolism, and adipocyte biology in ways that could predispose to obesity.”
  • “Pending definitive studies, the principles of a low-glycemic load diet offer a practical alternative to the conventional focus on dietary fat and calorie restriction.”