New Study Dissects Calorie is just a Calorie Concept in Dieting

by Mark Benson on June 28, 2012

Calorie is just a calorie

In the June 26 edition of the Journal of Medical Association, a new study challenges the concept that ‘a calorie is a calorie’. Led by Cara Ebbeling Phd and David Ludwig MD, directors of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, the study finds diets that lower the surge of blood sugar after a meal that scores low on the glycemic index or carbohydrate rates is better than a low fat diet for those trying to achieve long term weight loss.

The study also found that the low glycemic index diet had similar metabolic benefits to the low carb diet, but without the negative effects such as stress and inflammation associated with those undertaking the very low carbohydrate diet program.

Regaining weight is often blamed on motivational decline or lowered enthusiasm to continue to diet and to exercise. The study found that biology also plays an important role, as once an individual experiences weight loss, the rate one burns calories or expends energy decreases. This is a symptom of slowing metabolism, which contributes to the difficulty to maintain weight resulting in individuals regaining the lost weight.

Previous research conducted by Ebbeling and Ludwig elucidated the advantages of a low glycemic load diet for diabetes and weight loss prevention. The effects though of these diets during weight loss maintenance have not been thoroughly examined. Current research indicates that about one in every six people that are overweight would maintain just ten percent of their weight loss in the long run.

The study further suggests that a low glycemic diet would be more effective compared to the conventional approaches to burning calories as well as keeping energy expenditure at a higher rate after the weight loss.

According to Ludwig, who is concurrently director of the Optimal Weight for Life Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, “We’ve found that, contrary to nutritional dogma, all calories are not created equal. Total calories burned plummeted by 300 calories on the low fat diet compared to the low carbohydrate diet, which would equal the number of calories typically burned in an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity.”

The study’s 21 adult participants are between the ages of 18 and 40 with each had to lose between ten and fifteen percent of their body weight. After their weight stabilized, the individuals would need to complete all three diets in random order for four weeks for each of the diets. The design of the study allowed for rigorous observation on how each diet had its effects on the participants, despite the orders in which the diets were consumed. These diets are as follows:


a)      Low Fat Diet. This diet reduced the dietary fat to emphasize the effect of whole grain products with a variety of fruits and vegetables composed of sixty percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, twenty percent from fat and twenty percent from protein.

b)      Low Glycemic Index Diet. This comprises minimally processed grains, vegetables, healthy fats, legumes and fruits. It has forty percent of daily calories from carbs, forty percent from fat and twenty percent from protein. This diet digests rather slowly, with help to keep blood sugar and hormones on an even keel after the meal.

c)      Low Carb Diet. This diet takes inspiration from the Atkins diet and is composed of ten percent of daily carbohydrate calories, sixty percent from fat and thirty percent from protein.


The study utilized modern methods, such as stable isotopes in measuring the energy expenditures of the participants while they undergo the diet. Each of the diets fell within the normal healthy range of between ten to thirty five percent of daily calories from protein. The very low carb diet had produced the greatest improvement in metabolism but it had a side effect, namely increasing the cortisol levels of the participants. The increased cortisol levels can be precursors to insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. This diet also increased the C-reactive protein levels which can be precursors to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

On the other hand, the low fat diet is highly recommended by the US Government and Heart Association as it resulted in the largest decrease in energy expenditure as well as an unhealthy lipid pattern together with increased insulin resistance.

Ebbeling adds, “In addition to the benefits noted in this study, we believe that low glycemic index diets are easier to stick to on a day to day basis, compared to low-carb and low fat diets, which many people find limiting. Unlike low fat and very low carb diets, low glycemic diet doesn’t eliminate entire classes of food, likely making it easier to follow and more sustainable.”

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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