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Nutrients vs Calories. Do you know the difference?

The lifelong struggle to become healthy and sustain health and wellness may stem from the constant battle and worry of the calories that one takes in on a daily basis. We are taught from a young age that it is all about the calories.  “Calories in, calories out”! That is the creed of most doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, trainers, wellness coaches, internet gurus and so-called experts. The problem: it doesn’t work. Studies have proven this and I see it every day. The vast majority of American adults and children are greatly overfed and undernourished. Translation: they eat too much stuff that provides them no nutritional benefit. Simple metabolic blood markers indicate that about 90% of the clients I see initially are malnourished in some way. They are eating every day, often times large amounts, but they are malnourished.  Some of them are not even heavy, but they are what I like to call, “skinny fat people”. What I have found is that once they learn how to eat nutrient rich foods, they heal, repair, re-build themselves.  They begin to look and feel great! Remember looks are not the basis of health. Different body types will look and respond differently. That doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy. Follow up blood tests confirm that they are healthy on the inside which is really most important.

To get the picture I am training to paint, let’s look at a few definitions:

FOOD:  Any nutritious substance that is consumed in order to maintain and sustain life and growth and to repair and furnish energy. [1]

NUTRIENT: A substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of metabolism and life. [2]

It is pretty clear that food and nutrients are taken into the body to maintain life and growth, sustain growth and repair, provide energy and to support metabolism. If we think about it the right way, each cell in your body (there are about 37.2 trillion of them) [3] requires various vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals, macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients so that the cell can function properly and perform its specific duties of life. 

Let’s take the parietal cells of the stomach for example.  These cells produce Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) to aid digestion in the stomach of the foods you eat, especially proteins, which are essential to overall health and function. The parietal cells also make Intrinsic Factor which activates and facilitates the absorption of Vitamin B12.  Vitamin B12 is a necessary component of the cellular energy production process. The parietal cells of the stomach are constantly being reproduced and old cells are removed by new ones. In order for these cells to produce HCL, which is absolutely essential to proper digestion, several nutrients and compounds that we obtain from the foods we eat are required.  Chloride (found in salt as well as tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and olives)and potassium (found most in avocado, spinach, sweet potato, wild caught salmon) and water and carbonic acid and carbon dioxide must all be present in adequate quantity in order for these cells to begin the function of making HCL so then the HCL can be secreted in the stomach to do its job of digesting food and proteins. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? My point is that it can be complicated and eating wrong can certainly make things go wrong. Low HCL production leads to bloating, stomach upset, gastric reflux and ulcers. Lack of production of Intrinsic Factor leads to low energy, fatigue and anemia. [4]


Now back to our original point. Nutrients we eat maintain life, sustain growth and support metabolism.In Contrast, a CALORIE is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree, I.E., a unit of energy-producing potentialequal to this amount of heat contained in food. [5]  Yes that is right, look it up.

We notice that there is nothing, nada, absolutely zero in the definition of a calorie about nutrition, growth, repair, building, healing, cell function or anything about sustaining life. It is basically an energy producing potential. What you aren’t told is that it is totally dependent upon the person’s metabolic capacities and capabilities to take that calorie and actually turn it into energy. The energy production process is a highly complicated process (we will learn about that in a future post). It requires a lot of steps, processes and nutrient content to make energy the right way. That’s right, you can do it wrong.  You see we store energy in one of two forms: 1-glycogen (good energy), or 2-FAT (not so good energy right?!).  Let’s get back on point here!  

Yet the calorie is all that people think or worry about. “How many calories are in that? How many calories are in this? I gotta stay under my calorie goal? Only 100 calories in that snack pack of baked processed fake cheese powder and chemical additive laced crackers??? Sign me up!!” UUUUHHHHHHHH! Not if you want to be healthy.

We must understand that not all calories are built the same! Harvard Medical School has finally admitted to that. [6] One gram of carbohydrate equals 4 calories. One hundred calories of kale provides a plethora of vital, health bringing nutrients that allow your body to function properly and at a high level and thrive, actually fighting poor function and disease and stimulating amazing function and health.  One hundred calories (same amount) of cinnamon buns or pasta or refined boxed breakfast cereal or no fat yogurt or zero calorie pasteurized fruit drink or 100 calorie snack pack baked processed fake cheese powder and chemical additive laced crackers contains little to no usable nutrients as well as compounds such as phytates and lectins that actually block the absorption of other nutrients, promote inflammatory responses (we will learn about this in another post) and lead to malnutrition and break down of the body. All of which lead to degeneration and disease. Think about that tomorrow morning and your next snack break! 

Calories in, calories out doesn’t work because not all calories are built the same.  The problem in the USA is that so many low/no nutrient dense “foods” are eaten daily. Many of them are even considered “healthy” like cereal, diet drinks, no fat products and other miracles of modern science, food processing and good television marketing. Let’s face it, a quality marketing firm can make a HOT POCKET sound appealing. 

If you have tried the outdated calories in, calories out approach and seen no results, you likely have a metabolic issue that needs to be investigated and addressed. Health, real health, is largely driven by the quality of nutrients we put in our bodies because the nutrients are what make our bodies’ function. It is also about getting your bodies’ systems to function the way they are meant to function. It is not about how tall you are, what you weigh or what your BMI number is on a ridiculous chart. [7]

Even if you are ill or have a chronic disease, your body function can be restored with the right nutritional implementation and approach. But everyone is different. I recommend you seek out someone who can competently evaluate you and your needs. Stick to good, whole, live and organic (when possible) foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meats in appropriate portions, eggs, nuts and seeds. These foods provide healthy forms of carbohydrates full of fabulous vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, enzymes and phyto-nutrients, proteins full of repairing and building amino acids and good fats that provide energy, support the brain and nervous system and make up the walls of the cells in your body.

It is the nutrients that support normal metabolism, healing, repair, and function, not the calories. Nutrients are like the gas we put in our cars. If you put bad fuel in, or not enough of the right fuel into a Ferrari, are you going to get high performance?  NO you are not! It will still run, but won’t perform to the high level it was meant to achieve. It is the same with the foods we put in our bodies.  Put junk in, and eventually performance will suffer and breakdown will follow.

Most people make serious vital mistakes every day with the things they put into their mouths through the food choices they make.  A lot of it is due to marketing and the way you are taught to eat. I mean our government has encouraged us to become a nature of overweight inflamed people for decades. Did you know that the advertising firm who developed the USDA food pyramid is the same firm that created ads for McDonalds?! [8,9]

Your food and nutrition choices make a huge difference in your health, vitality and longevity.  Learn the best choices for you and it will make a huge difference in your health, wellness and life.  My goal of this article was to get you thinking. I hope I have accomplished my task. Your health and wellness is important. Check back next time and we will expand on our knowledge and understanding of how the body works and what it needs to work best! Until then, whatever you do, do it like a BOSS!

Dr. Michael Boss, DC has been a practicing chiropractor and wellness practitioner for more than 26 years. He is co-owner and director of health and wellness at  JUICEBOSS Headquarters and provides wellness, weight loss and healthy treatment programs that focus on functional health care, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle. He is available for consultation at the JUICEBOSS HQ. Call 210-264-2570 for an individual consultation, or visit www.juicebosshq.comto learn more. 


[1] www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/food

[2] www.google.com/search?q=definition+of+nutrient&oq=definition+of+nutrient&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.5132j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[3] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/there-are-372-trillion-cells-in-your-body-4941473/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parietal_cell

[5]  https://www.google.com/search?q=calorie&oq=calorie+&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60j6j0j69i60l2.3238j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[6] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/theres-no-sugar-coating-it-all-calories-are-not-created-equal-2016110410602

[7] http://jezebel.com/5626769/doctor-calls-bullshit-on-the-bmi

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/10/politics/when-a-food-marketer-devises-nutrition-advice.html?mcubz=1

[9] http://adsoftheworld.com/media/ambient/mcdonalds_popup_experience

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