A calorie is not a calorie – not even close


A calorie is not a calorie. Some calories may, for example, make you burn 300 more calories per day (corresponding to 30 minutes of running).

The figure above shows that a strict low-carbohydrate diet on average resulted in burning 300 calories more, compared to a diet much higher in carbohydrates. More details about the study here.

Recommended reading, especially for those who still believe Coca Cola’s favorite argument: There’s no bad food, only bad character.

The truth is that an exaggerated intake of sugary drinks may force you to run an extra 30 minutes a day to maintain your weight. If you don’t get hungrier from all the sugar and eat more (which many do), in which case you could need an extra hour of running – per day – to maintain your weight.

Exercise is great, but for maintaining weight it’s easier to avoid sugar and junk food.


How to Lose Weight

The #1 Cause of Obesity: Insulin

Four Simple Steps to a Healthier and Leaner Life


  1. charles grashow
    The full study


    "Although the VLC diet produced the greatest improvements in most metabolic syndrome components examined here, we identified two potentially deleterious effects of this diet. Twenty-four hour urinary cortisol excretion, a hormonal measure of stress, was highest with the VLC diet. Consistent with this finding, Stimson et al34 reported increased whole-body regeneration of cortisol by 11β-HSD1 and reduced inactivation of cortisol by 5α-and 5β-reductases over 4 weeks on a VLC vs. a moderate-carbohydrate diet. Higher cortisol levels may promote adiposity, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease, as observed in epidemiological studies.35–37 In a 6-year prospective population-based study of older adults in Italy, individuals in the highest vs. lowest tertile of 24-hour cortisol excretion, with or without preexisting cardiovascular disease, had a 5-fold increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.38 CRP also tended to be higher on the VLC diet in our study, consistent with the findings of Rankin and Turpyn.39 Other studies also have found reductions in measures of chronic inflammation, including CRP with a low-GI diet.40–42"

    "Main study limitations are the relatively short duration of the test diets and the difficulty extrapolating findings from a feeding study to a more natural setting, in which individuals consume self-selected diets. The VLC diet, in particular, involved more severe carbohydrate restriction than would be feasible for many individuals over the long term. Therefore, the study may overestimate the magnitude of effects that could be obtained by carbohydrate restriction in the context of a behavioral intervention. "

  2. Megan
    These results say to me one diet does not fit all. Some burnt more energy on low carb diet, others burnt more on low fat diet, and still others burnt more with low glycemic index diet. People need to do their own trial and error to see which kind of diet is best for them.
  3. Murray
    Yes, I expect for many people cortisol goes up in the short term during keto adaptation. I expect the reason is that without loads of sugar from the higher carbohydrates to which the metabolism is accustomed (addicted), the body goes through withdrawal and stress elevates blood sugar through cortisol to compensate until epigenetics restore full fat metabolism. However, once adapted, cortisol levels are lower. This has been my experience. I find I have a far greater tolerance to stress now, being in a high pressure vocation. My HbA1c level dropped from 5.3 to 4.7 since going very low carb and I am consistently in ketosis, so insulin levels are presumably low. As the second paragraph quoted by Charles notes, this was a short-term study. As to CRP, mine is essentially zero on VLC, below the lab measurement tolerance.

    As to the maintainability of the diet, I suppose it varies person to person. I have been low carb for eight years and very low carb (ketogenic) for at least two years, with 0.6 mmol/l being my lowest recorded blood ketone level during this time and 5.4 mmol/L being my highest measured blood glucose (post-meal). I only started monitoring daily blood ketones two years ago, so I am not sure how ketogenic I was before two years ago. I find the diet is very easy to maintain. Eat lots of fat, modest meat head to tail, daily bone broth soups or sauces, use butter and olive oil sauces aplenty (Hollandaise, vinaigrette, mousseline etc.), avoid sugar, starch or vegetable oil, and treat sugary fruits and starchy vegetables as condiments. How much mustard or horseradish would you eat with a meal?

  4. bill
    As usual, it turns out their 'low carb' diet is really a
    High Protein diet:

    "...very low-carbohydrate diet (10% from carbohydrate, 60% from fat, and 30% from protein..."

    A significant portion of that protein will be turned
    into glucose in those participants.

    Still not VLCHF.

  5. charles grashow
    My diet is probably 40/40/20 - fat/carb/protein

    Eat lots of fresh/frozen fruit - last HbA1c was 5.2

    Reply: #6
  6. François
    If the proportion you are describing truly reflects what you are eating, in my opinion, you are probably OK, but swimming in dangerous waters. Paul and I referenced in previous posts an article showing that as soon as the percent from calories from carbs was over 40%, there was an automatic switch to epigenic inflammation and the higher the percentage, the more the inflammation.

    HbA1C is only one of many inflammation markers. Though you are probably doing well, I myself prefer a security blanket and aim for 60% fat, 20% protein and 20% carbs as percent of total energy. This still leaves me plenty of room to eat a ton of veggies (which I love) with subtle vinaigrettes and butter sauces).

    This being said, it's your life!

    Reply: #7
  7. Andrew
    What about all the people who have turned their health around on plant based diets like the starch solution, the engine 2 diet, etc. They consume up to 80% carbs and would say people following you're diet are swimming in dangerous waters. I guess people will never agree in the diet world!
    Reply: #10
  8. charles grashow
    But what types of carbs are you referencing? Refined, processed or unrefined, natural?
  9. Murray
    Charles makes a good point. There is a world of difference between mashed potatoes and cold rice in sushi rolls. Rice that is chilled overnight in the fridge becomes resistant starch. A large percentage of resistant starch is not digested directly but is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine to make short chain saturated fats (assuming a healthy gut biome). So what appears to be a higher carb diet in fact has much more calories from fat than a naive diet survey would suggest. Indeed, gorillas get 60% of calories as saturated fat from digesting plant fibers.
  10. François
    With regards to the percentage of macronutrients, carbs are carbs. Sure it is always better to eat cell-encased carbs versus free sugars. [Eating fiber is important only if you eat carbs as fibers slow the absorption of carbs and decrease the insulinic response]. Quality is quite important, but once absorbed, quantity is also important: there is no way your body can find the source of a specific carb. It is simply much more difficult to eat a great deal of carbs when eating green leafy vegetables versus sweet fruits. But just look back in this web site's posts. A zoo in England stopped feeding "healthy bananas" to monkeys because they were developing diabetes. Regardless of the fact a banana is a "healthy fruit".

    And with regards to Andrew's comment, you are right that people will never agree in the diet world, but there are two reasons. Money and pride. You cite the infamously agresive, unpleasant and abrasive Dr McDougall (starch solution) and his follower, a fireman who wrote "engine2diet". Their diet is of course by far superior to the SAD diet, but what diet is not? Honestly, look at a picture of Dr McDougall and of his followers: a great many of them are cachexic. Not the picture of health. Rather than re-write the arguments here, I recommend you read the following posts: http://chriskresser.com/why-you-should-think-twice-about-vegetarian-a... AND http://authoritynutrition.com/top-11-biggest-lies-about-vegan-diets/. Chris and Kris nail it quite well. A vegan diet is non sustainable: it lacks B12, iron and vitamin D amongst other things.

    There are facts based on good science and there are opinions. We are all allowed our opinions. What is sad is that some of us choose their facts to suit what they have decided to believe and reject all evidence presented to the contrary. You see this in peope who have built a career on an idea who have too much pride to say "I was wrong". You also see this in people who are paid big money by either "Big Food" or "Big Pharma" to give a message, regardless of the evidence. This is a form of moral prostitution.

    Do not forget that most physicians and dietitians are totally unable to read a science article: they do not have the biostats and epi knowledge to be able to do so. They also have forgotten basic notions of biochemistry and are trained in thinking in the following way: a symptom, a diagnosis, a pill - or better, many pills. Lifestyle changes and diet are paid lip service and laughed upon. This is not "serious". Pills are.

    Most physicians and dietiticans have to believe the conclusions of the authors. I have personal knowledge of this since I am a physician who for many years had to believe at face value what the authors of science papers said, just like all my colleagues (IF they had an interest in nutrition, which is rare). You also have to know that medical and dietitian education is paid for by big pharmaceutical companies and big food companies. The diabetic associations advice papers are written by people paid for by pepsico. Is it surprising they recommend a high carb intake? 80% carb? Sheer folly. Of course, we can live on such a diet, but how long and at what cost? Basic science has shown clearly that over 40% carbs, regardless of their source, there is an epigenetic switch to inflammation. Always. People like McDougall may choose to ignore this. They won't drop dead. But they'll get systemic inflammation. Regardless of what they think.

    I took one year of epi and biostats training during a Masters in Public Health. I learned that unfortunately, most science was crap and paid for by people who had massive interest in certain conclusions. This is why I read basic science articles. They are less likely to be contaminated by financial pollution.

    People like McDougall have chosen their camp and will never change, regardless of any evidence. McDougall has chosen to ignore that biochemical markers improve dramatically on a LCHF diet. And that weight goes naturally back to normal. Without effort. He would rather have his followers lose weight while starving and eating a tasteless low fat diet. Too bad McDougall chose to ignore that his brain, just like that of any human, is made of 3/4 fat. He probaby needs quite a bit, considering his irritability.

    LCHF normalizes biochemical markers, improves dramatically epilepsy, autism, ADHD and Alzheimer's. Fatty liver is cured in days. HDL soars. LDL changes from small tight particles to big harmless fluffy particles. Triglycerides normalize. Gllycemia goes down to normal, so does HbA1C. If this is dangerous waters, I'll swim there with pleasure.

    Reply: #13
  11. fredt
    What this study really shows is the Atwater factors vary from person to person. Atwater through out 1/2 of his data and averaged the remaining data. For 1/2 of the people, the Atwater factors are out to lunch.
  12. pinkpoison
    I would like to read something about ASP (Acylation Stimulating Protein) and Chylomicrons and their role in the promotion of obesity. It's not all about insulin! Not even close!
    Reply: #15
  13. Murray
    Francois, excellent point on the basic research. That is how I ended up LCHF, through the back door. There was too much cognitive dissonance in the research that is directly related to issues that matter to big food, big pharma and big health bureaucracy. So I, too, focused on more basic research, off the radar screen of these vested interests, and the dissonance between basic research and what we have been told became more intense. What I have noticed in the past five years or so is a growing body of direct research into these nutritional issues, not just the basic research, that flatly contradicts the "consensus" of so-called experts in the nutrition and health fields.
  14. T Ross
    Interestingly enough, there are two subjects whose basic energy expenditure is slightly lower on LCHF (contrary to the clear general trend). I wonder what to make of them.
  15. Paul the rat
    @ pinkpoison

    When you have ketone bodies cruising in your blood, do not worry about ASP


  16. Paul the rat
    Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Aug;21(8):1613-7. doi: 10.1002/oby.20175. Epub 2013 May 13.

    Increased acylation stimulating protein levels in young obese males is correlated with systemic markers of oxidative stress.

    Celik S1, Tangi F, Kilicaslan E, Sanisoglu YS, Oktenli C, Top C.
    Author information

    As little is known about relationship between acylation stimulating protein (ASP) and oxidative stress, whether there is any link between ASP and oxidative stress in young obese males were investigated.
    Forty-five obese (median body mass index (BMI) = 36.99 (IQR = 3.65) kg m(-2)) male subjects (median age = 22 (IQR = 6) years) and 24 age-matched (median age = 22.5 (IQR = 4.8) years) healthy male volunteers (median body mass index (BMI) = 23.67 (IQR = 2.45) kg m(-2)) were recruited into the study. All obese subjects have BMI > 30 kg m(-2), while all controls have BMI < 25 kg m(-2).
    Fasting plasma ASP, lipid hydroperoxide, high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), fasting insulin, triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol levels and HOMA-IR were higher, whereas the mean HDL-cholesterol levels and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) enzyme activity were significantly lower in obese subjects than controls. The linear regression analysis showed that lipid hydroperoxide was independently associated with only BMI, while ASP was independently associated with BMI and triglyceride.
    The present data support the concept that obesity occurs under condition of compex interactions by adipokines, insulin, inflammation, and oxidative stress.

  17. murray
    This supports the hypothesis that the cause of obesity is excess starch and sugar in the diet. Those who have more alleles of AMY1 (and, presumably, a related suite of starch-tolerating genes) are less likely to get obese on the carb-heavy SAD, but those who do develop weight issues on the same diet are simply not designed for such a diet. So if one is obese, excess starch and sugar is the likely reason.

    Most notably, the canonical argument that "my grandmother who eats bread every day was never fat" is NOT evidence against the hypothesis that obesity is generally caused by excess starch and sugar in the diet--the grandmother was not obese. In order to refute the hypothesis that excess starch and sugar is the main cause of obesity (in those who do get obese), one would need a significant population of people who ate no or little starch or sugar and got obese. No evidence of that yet.

    Imperial College London. "Carbohydrate digestion and obesity strongly linked." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 March 2014.

    M. Falchi et al. Low copy number of the salivary amylase gene predisposes to obesity. Nature Genetics, 2014 DOI: 10.1038/ng.2939

  18. Bill UK
    Hi Paul, as you appear to be in the "know" what is your take on cortisol and low carb diets, apologies if your previous posts have answered this.



    Replies: #22, #23
  19. Paul the rat
    Hi Bill UK

    I do not no much about cortisol biochemistry/physiology. If I'll see a publication I will post it, sorry but I can not help you.

  20. Paul the rat
    Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Feb;22(2):474-81. doi: 10.1002/oby.20594. Epub 2013 Sep 20.

    Modifying influence of dietary sugar in the relationship between cortisol and visceral adipose tissue in minority youth.

    Gyllenhammer LE1, Weigensberg MJ, Spruijt-Metz D, Allayee H, Goran MI, Davis JN.
    Author information

    Cortisol has been associated with preferential visceral adipose tissue (VAT) deposition; however, findings in humans are mixed, which may be clarified when diet is considered.
    Participants included 165 African-American and Latino, overweight adolescents (BMI% 97.2±3.2%, ages 13-18, 67% Latino, 66% female). Body composition was determined by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, abdominal fat depots [VAT, subcutaneous (SAT)] by multiple-slice MRI, time-controlled serum sample to measure cortisol, and 2-day multi-pass 24-hour dietary recall. Linear regression analysis examined the cross-sectional relationship between cortisol, and the interaction of diet and cortisol on adiposity measures. Sex, race, age, and total body fat were a priori covariates.
    There was a significant interaction between cortisol and sugar (total and added) in the prediction of VAT (Pinteraction  ≤ 0.05). Amongst participants with high total or added-sugar intake, cortisol was significantly associated with VAT (ß = 0.031 P < 0.001; ß = 0.026 P < 0.001), with no relationship in low consumers of total or added-sugar.

    Dietary sugar may play an important role in modifying the relationship between cortisol and VAT, such that cortisol is significantly associated with elevated VAT under conditions of high sugar intake.

  21. Bill UK
    Thanks Paul.
  22. Kat
    My my my. There are a lot of people confusing anecdotes with data.

    Andrew, there are some people who are well adapted to carbohydrates - at the very least in their youth. I think we're going to have to let go of the notion of one perfect diet for all of humanity.

    As long as we're tossing around anecdotes, I went on a strict vegan diet ala Joel Fuhrman (google "nutritarian diet"). You couldn't have ANY processed foods, not even olive oil. You had to grind up the whole olive, etc. I was super thin, which was great (particularly for an endurance junkie like me). Unfortunately, I was never able to balance my energy levels and I would white knuckle sugar cravings until I could stand it no more and inhale an entire bag of dates, after which I went into that predictable carbohydrate coma. And when I was hungry I was evil. None of my blood work got better or worse (it was always excellent). A life-long sufferer of IBS (so bad they had to rule out Crohn's), I was in constant intestinal distress of varying degrees. On paper, I looked successful, but in practice I was binging on sugar or miserably trying to avoid it and my intestines were not happy - but not significantly less happy than on a "balanced" high carb diet sports nutritionists stuck me on.

    Low carb high fat works for me just great. I am in ketosis and my energy levels are incredibly stable. The sugar queen (moi) has lost her cravings for sugar (I've had no sugar for a long long time and I haven't wanted it) and IBS symptoms have disappeared. I took to this kind of diet like a duck to water with no adjustment period that is typical for most people. Frankly, I really don't care if my life is reduced by 5 years by eating this way (I don't think this is so, but that's not the point I'm making). If I had to live in the constant distress I was in before, I wouldn't want to live longer. Plus, it's hard to imagine that when a body goes from distress to total calm that this means you're physically worse off. That's not how it works.

    Does this mean that HFLC is the way to go for you? Or any single individual? I have no clue and neither do you. We are each an experiment and you have to find what works for you and your specific physiology. One size does not fit all.

  23. Eric Anderson
    The finding on variation in amy1 and amy 2 copy number variation and obesity is interesting.

    How are these CNV's distributed in the world? ?? The longer the starch from grains the higher or lower the CNV for amy 1 and amy 2?

    Also if this is true for grain aka charbohydrate digestion and variation might something like this be true for the enzymes associated for lactose digetion? This might explain the variation in both glucose and insulin response to milk sugars from person to person and population to population.

    Over time I have come to have less cream and more butter or coconut oil in my coffee to reduce my glucose and insulin response. Does seem to mak 5 to 10 mg/dl difference for me. Some report more and some less or no response to milk sugars.

  24. Zepp
    Well.. I think that a calorie still is a calorie.. the thing is that different calories affect our bodys differently.. thats is the thing to know!

    Soo, calories dont explain that much.. its like BMI or GMP.. a macro explanation that is quite right for whole contrys, but no help for individuals.

  25. Eric Anderson
    The point is well taken. We need to get beyond the calorie issue and discuss what are the observed effects of macronutrients on ad libtem (eat in normal manner) food consumption.

    Given a population some will be more or less insulin sensitive and some more or less insulin resistent.

    The general effects of a well formulated HFLC (Ketogenic diet) have been well documnted:

    Spontanious reduction in consumption (Any problem? I think not
    Reduction of water retention (Good for blood pressure, weight, and salt retention
    Reduction in Glycogen (I think this is good) Some may debate but no ill health from this
    Metabolic pathway seem to have the potential to burn more calories (Increase metabolic rate)
    Physical activity and metabolic rate decline when calories are restricted in a typical eat less diet but activity increases and so does resting metabolic rate on ketogenic diet.

    For me it is helpful to know:
    Blood glucose, Insulin, Ketone A1c, lipidt levels so if and when needed I can adjust.
    Maybe some people find restion of carbohydates to 10 grams or 20 or 30 is needed while younger or more active may find 50 or 70 suits current diet

    I try to keep in mind that good is not or should not be the enemy of perfect.

    Some may start with sugar and some may add fruit juices, grain, potatoes, fruit and or some or all vegetables and some or all dairy. (Each to their own?)
    Some may also include evidence based fat consumption ( Animal vs omega 6 rich seed/nut oils)

    Reply: #29
  26. Murray
    Yes, don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

    Regarding glycogen, i have pondered whether glycogen in the liver is desirable. Carb-fuelled athletes strive to become glycogen replete, so not one gram of capacity to store glycogen remains. Obviously a ready source of fuel is good, for exercise or to sustain blood sugar during sleep. I, however, also look at the capacity to store glycogen as a safety buffer, so that when food raises blood sugar, the liver and muscles can quickly absorb the excess sugar without the liver having to manufacture triglycerides and the pancreas to make a large amount of insulin to make normally fat burning cells, such as vital organs, burn off excess sugar (elevating oxidative stress inside the cells of vital organs).

    As a result of this, I measure my blood sugar every morning. Based on observation over time, it seems my glycogen buffer is in red zone (little capacity to take in excess blood sugar) when I measure 4.7 mmol/L or higher. What seems to work for me to clear some space in the glycogen buffer (my blood sugar safety buffer) is to do some nice long slow distance training, like a 2 hour road ride at 120-130 beats-per-minute heart rate (higher on the hills). Conversely, if I know I will be having a meal with more carbs or higher glycemic carbs than usual, I will do some exercise to increase the buffer capacity (I.e., reduce glycogen).

  27. grinch
    Increased palatabilty, increased energy density (relative to the entire food, not just cals/g of a macro-nutrient), reduced satiety, and what you end up with is over-consumption of calories and obesity. It is NOT about macro-nutrients, which is why its easy to find data for both sides of the argument when looking at that level of granularity. Nobody in a lab gets obese by eating a low calorie intake because of calorie partitioning.
    Replies: #31, #32
  28. Zepp
    Thank you again grinch.. to make us aware of calories!

    We seems to forget them all the time and focus on macronutrients!

    But, such food you name/point at.. isnt that so cald junk food?

    Mayby therfore we forget about calories and how other eats?

    Then it come acrose my mind.. could it be that we dont eat such food.. and you are.. and then you have to be aware of something we dont need to?

    But any way.. thank you for pointing on other things that we dont is aware of!

  29. Paul the rat
    @ grinch
    (I bothered to respond only because I have nothing else to do in the next 10 minutes)


  30. Paul the rat
    @ grinch, I have another spare 5 minutes

    @ # 30 grinch said: "...It is NOT about macro-nutrients,…"

    Few citations for you from the paper (post #32)

    "...This study is important because it demonstrates that the macronutrient composition of the diet can influence energy expenditure after exercise during conditions of energy balance….

    ….Our results suggest that dietary macronutrient composition is important and should be considered in the design of experiments that attempt to measure EPOC over an extended time period. In support of our observation, a recent report by Børsheim et al. [12]….

    ….the study reinforces in a cross-sectional design the current hypothesis that dietary composition, and in particular dietary fat, can influence EPOC following aerobic exercise…."

    a) I won't bother to post more published work on the subject
    b) I can not explain why I am wasting even 5 minutes of my time responding to a closed-minded fool

  31. matt
    I'm trying to eat more carbs since cutting them and having a eating disorder. I craved them and ended up binge eating. An essential food group was cut on high protein diet and boy did it mess me up!
    Reply: #35
  32. Paul the rat
    "...on high protein diet …"

    Oh boy, this is not a High Protein Diet Blog. I suggest you drop your bomb somewhere else.

  33. Paul the rat
    I forgot to add: a bomb of your ignorance

    @matt you said: "… An essential food group.." - please do not use terms you do not understand

    (article by Eric C. Westman)

  34. Peter John
    Never knew there is such a difference between wild and farmed salmon and the salmon coming from aquaculture.Nice to see clear details on salmon.Enjoyed reading blog. The production of farmed salmon has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Farmed salmon has a completely different diet and environment than wild salmon.


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