Is a Calorie a Calorie? Does It Matter Where It Comes From?

We all have different motivations for losing weight. Maybe we want to feel better or look better. Or, maybe we want to be healthier. Or, maybe we want all of those things.

The only way to lose weight is to be in a caloric deficit. We must burn more calories than we consume. So, does it matter where those calories come from as long as we don’t overdo it?

The answer is complicated.

If you ONLY care about losing weight then it might not matter where your calories come from. Theoretically, then, you could eat fast food once a day every day and lose weight. Technically, yes. I wonder, though, how you’d feel. You can get a good idea about how you’d feel if you watch the movie Super Size Me where Morgan Spurlock explores the impact of fast food on our bodies. In this film, he ate 3 fast food meals a day so it’s not quite the same but it gives you an idea. Even if you didn’t feel horrible, would you be hungry the rest of the day?

As I approach 50 years old, I have already lost three siblings to health-related diseases/illnesses two were in their thirties when they passed away. Thirties! So, for me, health is one of my TOP priorities though I love how being healthy makes me look and feel, too. I believe when you focus on health, the other benefits naturally occur. However, it’s also important to find a lifestyle that’s sustainable.

Macronutrients or Macros

If you’ve done any type of research, especially if you’ve read about The Keto Diet, you’ve probably heard about macros. “Macros” is an abbreviation for macronutrients and essentially means how much of your diet is made up of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. When we focus on the right balance, it becomes easier to lose weight which is the basic approach of The Keto Diet to burn fat (stored and consumed) as fuel.

Generally speaking, if your diet is higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein, you are more likely to overeat because you will get hungrier more often. Protein helps us feel satiated for a longer period of time. In addition, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Carbohydrates higher in fiber will keep us feeling fuller longer. Carbs without fiber or much fiber will digest very quickly.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends a daily protein intake of 10 to 35% of total daily calories from protein. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, that means it is recommended to eat 200-700 calories in protein. Calories from fat should be 20 to 35% so 400 to 700 calories. And, the remainder, 45% to 65% or 600-1400 calories, should be from carbohydrates. If you follow a low-carb diet such as Keto, the goal will be less.

So, back to calories, if you only focus on this, you can lose weight by tracking your macros using an app like myfitnesspal. However, as we know from news stories such as runners having heart attacks, what’s going on on the inside isn’t always apparent until it’s too late. Our internal health, I would argue, is one of the most important things to focus on.

Micronutrients or Micros

Part of what’s impacting your internal health are micronutrients, also known as vitamins and minerals. These are vital to your health and to preventing disease. It’s not enough NOT to eat fast food or other less-healthy food but we must provide our bodies with NUTRITIOUS food. According to Dr. Greger, author of How Not to Die, which had me look at my health in a new way two years ago, the healthiest way to eat is a vitamin B12-fortified diet of whole plant foods.

Let’s just take one example: Vitamin A or Beta Carotene

Many Americans don’t get enough Vitamin A in their diet yet it is important for eyesight, lowering the risk of certain cancers, boosting your immune system, reducing acne, and helping to maintain your bones.

Men should get 900 mcg (or 3,000 IU) per day and women should get 700 mcg (or 2,330 IU) per day. You can find Vitamin A in a variety of foods including red, orange, and yellow vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and a variety of fruits. Many of these foods have even more micronutrients than just Vitamin A, too, but that’s too much to fit here.

Food Comparison

The next time you go shopping and you’re paying attention to the calories, start to try to also pay attention to a few other things on the nutrition label. You might look at how much fiber, added sugar, and vitamins are in the food. Here are a few examples of how calories can be similar but not considered equal:

Peanut Butter vs. Nutella

Peanut Butter vs Nutella

Sweet Potato vs. White Potato

Sweet Potato vs White Potato

Spinach vs. Iceberg Lettuce

Spinach vs Iceberg Lettuce


I hope this gives a glimpse into why the source of your calories makes a difference to your internal health even if you are meeting your weight loss goals. That’s not to say you should never eat iceberg lettuce or Nutella. Not at all! A varied diet will keep life more interesting. Simply try to mix things up, literally and figuratively. Throw a handful of iceberg lettuce in with your Spinach Salad, for example, if you like the taste and texture better, and alternate the types of potatoes you eat. It’s that simple!

What Are Your Favorite Healthy Foods?

2 thoughts on “Is a Calorie a Calorie? Does It Matter Where It Comes From?”

  1. This article was excellent! I’m wondering, though, how do you know if a vitamin supplement is necessary? How do we know if our food choices are providing us with the proper nutrients we need?

    • @Diane I’m glad you liked it! The best way to know if you need any vitamin supplements is to do bloodwork with your doctor. I went to the doctor last year and told him I was considering B supplements and he said he’d check during my annual labs. When the results came back, he said I didn’t need any supplements and my bloodwork was all good. Theoretically, if you are eating a well-balanced diet, you do not need any supplements. And, many foods such as my protein powder are also fortified with vitamins. Hope that helps!


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