Are All Calories Are Created Equal?

Our body’s metabolism seems to favor calories from unprocessed foods — such as whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies according to a fascinating study cited in April’s Cooking Light magazine. The study done last year by a professor of nutrition at Kansas State University found that not all calories may be equal: “The body may burn calories from whole foods better than it does calories from processed foods like Twinkies.” Therefore, eating whole foods versus processed foods may actually give your metabolism a nice boost!

The researchers fed people two meals with the exact same number of calories; the only difference was how much the food was processed. Group A was given sandwiches made with real cheese on whole-grain bread; Group B made do with processed cheese on fiber-stripped white bread. The results, published in Food & Nutrition Research, found that the processed meal decreased the rate of diet-induced thermogenesis—the number of calories you burn when eating and digesting—by nearly 50% compared to the meal made with whole foods.

Here’s some whole food or thought: While the calories burned from a single sandwich may be small, this rise in metabolism caused by whole foods might account for about 10% of a typical person’s daily calorie expenditure. In other words, eating whole foods versus processed foods could mean the difference between losing or gaining approximately ten pounds in one year, respectively!

Balancing energy in and energy out is critical to solving the obesity crisis, but calorie counting can be tedious and is most likely not the real answer. A better approach is the whole foods approach, because Americans also need to increase intake of a long list of nutrients, including fiber, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D, which are associated with whole foods. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains delivers those nutrients in a form that may also hold a calorie-burning advantage.

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Take the lead from Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, which encourages fruits and vegetables at every meal with an emphasis on choosing whole foods. So, put away those processed chips, and choose an apple or some strawberries instead!

About This Author

PhotobucketJoanna Dolgoff, M.D. is a Pediatrician, Child Obesity Expert, and Author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right (Rodale, 2009). Dr. Dolgoff’s child and adolescent weight loss program ( has been featured on WABC News, WNBC News, Fox 5 Morning Show, My9 News, and WPIX News. She has also filmed pieces with The Today Show and Extra, is an official blogger for the Huffington Post, and is the official doctor for Camp Shane, the nation’s largest weight loss camp. Children from 45 different states are losing weight with Dr. Dolgoff’s online weight loss program (
Dr. Dolgoff attended Princeton University and the NYU School of Medicine and completed her Pediatric Residency at the Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital of New York. She is a Board-Certified Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a former certified fitness instructor. Dr. Dolgoff resides in Roslyn, NY with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 7.

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  • Promotional Products , April 26, 2011

    When Thomas Jefferson wrote the phrase “all men are created equal” as part of the Declaration of Independence, do you think he meant women too? Why or why not? Use at least two historical references to support your argument

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