Ask Alfonso: Are All Calories Created Equal?

Hi Alfonso,

I heard people saying ‘a calorie is a calorie’ and that weightless is simply about reducing calories in versus calories out. Some people are saying that simply put there is no difference in 100 calories of cookies or 100 calories of steak. What is your take on this?


Hey Dan,

Ah, the million dollar question. You’ll find varying opinions on the subject of calories. It seems as though nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, even trainers and coaches all have a different idea about food, nutrition and the almighty calorie. Weight Watchers even changed their way of thinking and remodeled their famous points system to one that assigns value to foods nutritional value and calorie content.

First of all, calories are a unit of heat. 1 calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water to 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. So basically calories are energy and supply much needed fuel to your body through some pretty cool body processes. Simple right? You’re a machine, and you need fuel to run. Ok boring I know.

The calorie vs. calorie debate is really silly in my opinion. Why do I say that? Because if you eat a healthy nutritious diet, it makes no difference. In other words, who cares if an apple or a cookie contains the same calories? Just stay away from the cookies and you’re good. I mean who wants to eat a cookie or ice cream diet? Have those on occasion and you’re good to go.

We all know the veggies, lean meats etc typically have fewer calorie and better nutrients than unknown’s food. So no, of course all calories aren’t created equally, because although they may contain the same amount of energy, where and what that energy is derived from can be very different.

Simple sugars process very quickly and provide little work for your body to digest and especially in junk food they’re “empty” calories, meaning they provide next to no nutritional value. They raise your blood sugar levels very quickly only to crash just as fast which can provide unstable energy levels. Not to mention they wreak havoc on your hormones and we KNOW that sugar feeds cancer, promotes inflammation, and overall isn’t good for human consumption.

I always say “eat fruit, don’t drink it”. Although to be honest the only fruit I suggest are berries. They’re low in calories and sugar. Whole fruit generally has fiber that will slow digestion. Drinking juice is just liquid sugar, and you’ll drink far more than you’d eat. Whereas vegetables contain fibrous sources of carbohydrates require a lot of work to be broken down and used for fuel. They actually cost your body calories to burn them and can also supply a slow, stable release of energy. They contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and all sorts of other alleged good stuff. Although there’s some science that says veggies really aren’t so good for you. That’ll be another post for sure!

In fact some foods are negative calories meaning it costs your body more calories to digest and burn the food than it actually contains! So you tell me, is a calorie a calorie? Yes, the energy is the same, the calorie count is equal, but how you use it and what you get is totally different.

Credits: Ben & Jerry's Gimme S'more!
Credits: Ben & Jerry’s Gimme S’more!

Imagine this scenario – sit down and eat 1/2 pint of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s usually about 1300 calories of processed sugar, along with unhealthy fats, artificial colors, dyes and flavors or sit down and eat a 12 ounce Ribeye with a side of avocado, pink sea salt and olive oil drizzle.

Good ole Ben & Jerry cause insulin spikes, crashes, and an entire slew of metabolic issues while the other provides essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals along with healthy fats that support brain function. Which is better? For fat loss and health, even with calories being the same, the steak and avocado win every time. 

Proteins have long been considered a thermic food, meaning it raises body temperature when consumed. Protein, especially from meat sources takes longer to break down and digest. And healthy fats are needed for heart health, vitamin uptake, healthy eyes, hair etc, and can provide an alternative source of fuel.

I encourage you to look for ACTIVE CALORIES. What that means is for you to make food choices that make your body work, or earn its food; choices that run the metabolic machinery and get things moving and nourish it rather than tax it with toxicity.

At the end of the day Dan, I keep repeating myself over and over. Just eat a healthy, nutritious, calorically appropriate diet with the occasional cheat and you’ll be golden.

I don’t believe all calories are created equal. And frankly the notion that anyone would suggest that is just ignorant and meant to stir the pot.And if you have a question – please just click here. I’d love to help you!

All information contained within this site,, is for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician.  No action should be taken solely on the contents of this website.  Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health or on any opinions expressed within this website. Please see your physician before changing your diet, starting an exercise program, or taking any supplements of any kind.

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  1. OK, i agree with everything you wrote, but i think you missed something: you should have mentioned that, for weight loss, a calorie IS really a calorie, as you already talked about the “twinkie diet”. it’s just a hint to complete the article.

    1. Yep, you’re right Meryt, but eating for weight loss & lower body fat % doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy, nutritous diet. And being of normal weight, with ripped abs doesn’t always mean your healthy. You could eat 1500 calories of ice cream & cookies to lose weight, and you will, but you’ll be much healthier with a well rounded diet of 1500 calories, and achieve the same, if not better results.

      Still, I see the lines you’ve drawn and I thank you for pointing them out.

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