What makes food good or bad? Is it the number of calories it contains? Find out the difference between good calories vs bad calories.
You’ve been hearing and seeing a lot about calories lately, especially with the top-rating TV show on ABC called “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and the recent super bowl ad that has everyone talking about organic foods. There’s been a lot of new information that many people have a hard time reconciling into their daily lives. That’s what this article is all about – helping you to understand the good calories vs bad calories controversy better.
What are calories and what do they do in the body
Calories are units of energy. We get energy from the food and drink we consume, especially carbohydrates.
Calories are a measure of the energy content of foods and beverages. They are essential for maintaining the body’s functions, such as breathing and digesting food. The body needs a certain amount of calories every day to keep its functions running smoothly, referred to as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR can be affected by various factors, including age, gender, height, weight, and activity levels.
Our bodies need calories to:
- provide the body with energy for moving and thinking
- keep warm
- help repair damage to body cells
- promote growth in children and teenagers
Some foods contain fewer calories than others. For example, a banana has about 100kcal and a chocolate bar about 230kcal.
The amount of energy people need varies from day to day and depends on their age, sex, size, and activity. On average, women need around 2,000kcal per day and men around 2,500kcal per day.
The calories in food come from three main sources:
- Protein. Protein has 4 calories per gram.
- Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram.
- Fat. Fat has 9 calories per gram.
Calories aren’t bad for you
Your body needs calories for energy. But eating too many calories — and not burning enough of them off through activity — can lead to weight gain. Most adults should aim to eat between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day.
When considering the calories in food, it’s important to remember that they aren’t all used up in the same way.
There are three main ways that calories are spent throughout the day:
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR) – this is the energy needed to maintain basic life processes such as breathing when at rest
- Digestion – your body needs energy to break down food so that the nutrients can be absorbed into the blood stream
- Physical activity – anything that requires movement burns up energy
The difference between good calories vs bad calories
The caloric content of foods is not the only thing that matters. If that were the case, we’d be able to lose a lot of weight by just eating sugar-free foods. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. It is also about what nutrients your body derives from the foods you eat and if those nutrients are beneficial for the body.
Eating healthy fats is excellent for your body because it helps boost your metabolism, reduces inflammation, improves heart health, and decreases harmful cholesterol levels in your blood. Eating low-quality carbohydrates can have a negative impact on your body by affecting your blood sugar levels and increasing inflammation in the body.
There’s really only one significant difference between good calories and bad calories — how they affect your body.
What are good calories?
Good calories are those that give you great nutrition.
Good calories are nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They are foods that your body recognizes as food and can use as fuel. They nourish your cells and your body’s tissues.
Good calories come from whole foods that are unprocessed, unrefined, and not chemically enhanced. Unprocessed foods have the highest nutritional value and are generally packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. All of which your body needs to stay healthy.
Some examples of good calories include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and milk. There is a world of difference between the refined sugar in a can of soda pop and the natural sugar found in an orange. Sugar from a processed source is a bad calorie. Sugar from an orange is a good calorie.
Likewise, high-fiber cereal has fewer calories than fruit-flavored loops, but it also has more nutrients and fiber. That means it will help keep you fuller for longer, which we want when trying to lose weight.
In a nutshell, good calories come from healthy, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
What are Bad Calories?
Bad calories don’t provide much in the way of nutrients.
Bad calories come from processed, refined foods or sugary drinks.
While many people associate “calories” with weight loss or gain, what’s more, important is the quality of the food you’re eating. That’s because the body processes each type of food differently and uses it in different ways.
Processed foods: Processed foods have been changed from their natural state and usually don’t contain all the nutrients our bodies need. They may be high in sugar and salt, making them taste great but adding little else nutritionally. These “empty calories” can easily lead to weight gain because they often contain more calories than your body needs.
Sugary drinks include sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened tea or coffee. They’re high in sugar but low in nutrition, so they add a lot of calories without filling you up or providing any nutritional benefits.
Foods that contain carbohydrates come with good calories and bad calories. The good kind of carbohydrates is the ones that have high nutritional value and digest slowly, keeping blood sugar levels steady and providing energy over time. The bad type of carbohydrates has low nutritional value and digest quickly, causing blood sugar levels to spike.
How to make sure you’re eating good calories
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are all sources of calories. Carbohydrates and proteins have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. Alcohol also has 7 calories per gram.
Not all calories are created equal. Here’s a look at how different foods can provide your body with the fuel it needs:
These play a role in helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and fueling the body’s cells. They’re also a source of fiber, which helps people feel full longer.
Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet, as it helps build muscle tissue tissues in the blood and organs and keeps skin healthy. It also plays a critical role in wound healing and repairing damage to cells.
Fats are an essential part of a balanced diet because they help you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. However, it’s necessary to be sure you’re eating the right kinds of fats to meet your nutritional needs.
Though alcohol has calories, it doesn’t provide nutrition for the body as other macronutrients do.
Foods that provide nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, protein, fiber, and healthy fats, should be the focus of your diet. These foods provide a wide range of nutrients absorbed at different rates and help you feel fuller longer. Choosing primarily nutrient-dense foods is the best way to ensure you’re getting enough nutrition in fewer calories.
Healthy, satisfying foods make it easier to eat fewer calories. Eating more of them fuels your metabolism and helps you lose weight faster.
Here’s how to make sure you’re eating good calories:
1. Choose foods low in saturated fat and added sugars. Saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, while added sugars contribute no nutritional value.
2. Emphasize fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Fiber-rich foods help keep you feeling satisfied longer while providing a host of health benefits.
3. Opt for lean protein sources like chicken breast and fish, which are lower in saturated fat than other meats, or try a plant-based protein like beans or tofu.
There’s been a lot of talk about good calories and bad calories.
The basic idea is that overeating sugar, refined grains, and other foods that are broken down into sugar quickly can make you fat while eating “good” carbs or fats can help you lose (or at least maintain) weight. But what’s up with this? Is it good advice?
The basic idea of good and bad calories is simple
Some foods mess with your blood sugar and insulin, causing your body to store fat. And others don’t, so you stay leaner.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: While it’s possible to eat too many calories, it’s also possible to have a healthy diet filled with empty calories.
It’s tempting to assume that you’re automatically making a healthier choice if you’re consuming fewer calories. But when nutritionists recommend cutting back on calories, they’re referring to empty ones.
Empty calories lack nutrients and are typically found in processed foods like candy, soda, and fried items. Calorie counting is a valuable tool for many people, but it’s important to note that not all calories are created equal. If you’re cutting back on food or limiting your calorie intake, ensure you’re filling up on the good stuff — not the empty stuff. Here’s how:
Check the ingredients list
A short list of ingredients is best, mainly if whole foods like nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid products with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or ones that include sugar as one of the first three items (which indicates it is one of the main ingredients).
Check the sugar count
The sugar content should be less than 35 percent of your total daily calories intake (or about 90 grams, maximum). According to the American Heart Association, women on average consume about 15 percent more than this recommended limit each day, which can lead to obesity, heart disease, and other problems.
Examples of good and bad calorie foods
As a rule, foods high in calories tend to be high in fat. Foods that are low in fat tend to be low in calories. You could say that all foods high in fat are bad calories, but not all bad calories are high in fat.
Good Calories Food
Fruits and vegetables such as grapes and broccoli are good calorie foods because they contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Nutrient-rich foods will make you feel full longer than foods with low nutritional value, so you’ll eat less. In addition, the fiber helps your digestive system function properly and reduces your risk of heart disease.
Oatmeal is another example of a good calorie food because it contains complex carbohydrates that provide energy for your body. It’s also rich in fiber, which helps you stay full longer and may lower your cholesterol levels. Salmon is another good calorie food because it’s high in protein and loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, reducing inflammation and protecting against heart disease.
Bad Calories Food
Doughnuts, candy bars, potato chips, and soda are examples of refined carbohydrates that should be eaten sparingly, if at all. Refined carbs are easy to digest, and they leave you feeling hungry after eating them because they don’t contain much fiber or protein.
You want to avoid foods high in calories yet low in nutritional value. These foods may be tasty and satisfying, but they’re not very satisfying to your body’s nutritional needs.
Here are some common bad calorie foods:
Bread: white bread, bagels, muffins, croissants, and doughnuts
Breakfast cereals: cold cereals like Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, and Fruit Loops
Cookies: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, and sugar cookies
Snacks: potato chips (regular or baked), corn chips, pretzels, and cheese puffs
Cakes: chocolate cake, carrot cake, and angel food cake
Tips for incorporating more good calories into your diet
Find ways to eat more whole grains every day. You can start your day with oatmeal or high-fiber cereal made with whole grains, have a sandwich on whole-wheat bread, or try brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice.
Snack on fresh fruit and nuts between meals to stay fuller longer. Skip the chips, crackers, and cookies high in empty calories.
Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily
Get your head out of the “calorie counting” mentality, and focus on nutrient-rich foods.
Aim for 35% of daily calories from protein, 35% from healthy fat, and 30% from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Set aside two hours every Sunday to roast a chicken and cook large batches of vegetables such as sweet potatoes or squash. Then have these foods ready to go throughout the week, so you don’t resort to less nutritious options when time is tight.
Eat fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut regularly to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome (the bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal tract).
Eat more nuts and nut butter. Nuts are a great snack, and they’re also good in salads and main dishes. Almonds, peanuts, cashews, and other nuts are high in calories, protein, and healthy fats. Nut butter (almond butter, peanut butter) is easy to spread on bread or crackers for a quick calorie boost.
Drink smoothies made with milk or yogurt, fruit, and protein powder (whey). This is an easy way to add hundreds of calories without much effort.
Eat avocados. Avocados are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fat and make a great addition to salads and sandwiches. They’re also delicious when mashed for guacamole or sliced in half as a side dish.
Make oatmeal with milk instead of water. Oatmeal is high in protein and low in fat, making it ideal for gaining weight if you have diabetes or heart disease.
Describing The Difference Between Good Vs Bad Calories
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of that food. A calorie is a term used to describe a measure of the energy present in food. A unit of measurement is used to explain the amount of energy contained in foods and other products consumed by a person as a source of energy and other nutrients.
Try eating foods with high Nutrition Facts Labels.
In general, the diet should be nutritious and contain enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. People will lose about the same amount of weight whether calories come from low fat, low carb, or any other combination of nutrients.
As you get older, if you continue to eat the same types and amounts of food but don’t become more active, you are likely to put on weight. If you weren’t consuming more sugar calories than you consumed, your weight would stay the same. In any case, after three to six months, weight loss was two to three times greater with the low-carbohydrate diet (no calorie restriction) than with the low-calorie, low-fat diet.
A diet rich in dietary fiber can increase bowel movement frequency, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and reduce caloric intake. There is strong evidence that replacing saturated fats with some unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels. As part of a healthy diet, you should minimize foods and beverages high in saturated and trans fats and replace some of them with unsaturated fats. Certain types of omega-3 and omega-6 fats cannot be produced by your body, which means it is essential to include them in small amounts in your diet.
In the end, it all comes down to what your body needs. If you’re trying to lose weight, the best type of calorie is one your body doesn’t need right now. There’s a lot of debate about which foods are good or bad for weight loss, but we can all agree that too many empty calories and not enough exercise will cause you to gain weight.