Do Calories Really Count? Paleo Diet or Not…

Original article can be found here.

Losing weight would entail getting acquainted with the word “calorie.” By this time, you may have been informed that calorie is a sort of unit that is used to measure energy. It can be defined as the “amount of heat needed to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree C at sea level.” This definition describes the “small calorie” or the “gram calorie” with a symbol cal which is about 4.2 joules. On the other hand, the so-called “large calorie” or the “kilogram calorie” estimates the energy that is needed to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree C, which are 1,000 small calories or about 4.2 kilojoules. The large calorie is also the dietary calorie or food calorie we know, designated with the symbol Cal (note the capital letter “C”).

Without getting highly technical with the definition of calorie, you might be wondering how important this unit of energy is to diet plans such as the paleo diet. This probably what raises the interest of people who want to lose weight. Thus, the essential question: do we need to count our calorie intake when engaging in paleo diet? Does it still matter though we make sure that we get rid of the “anti-inflammatory” foods and high-carbohydrate meals? Do calories from foods really count?

Counting Calories Are Not The Same for all Food Groups:

Nutritionists have a way to determine how much calories are assimilated for different foods. This calorie counting is based on the fact that each of the three food groups (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) yields different amounts of calories (well, with the exception of protein and carbohydrate); such that: 1 gram of carbohydrate and protein will yield 4 calories while 1 gram of fat will yield 9 calories.2

You might be thinking right now that since carbohydrates and proteins have the same calorie yield, then it will be safe to eat similar amounts for each food group daily. This is entirely incorrect. The body has a way to find the necessary “energy” it needs momentarily. Sound confusing?

Before we dwell on the discussion on the energy yield by each of the macronutrients and how they affect losing weight, let us cite a study that proves how important it is to track down your caloric intake. In a study done at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, the researchers found out that the caloric restriction without malnutrition delayed aging, disease and extended the lifespan of rhesus macaques.3 Thus, it has been found out that caloric restriction not only is important in losing weight but may be applicable to overall health, including ageing. And in the universally accepted truth, when you generally consume more calories from food than you burn off daily (through activities and exercises), then the possibility of gaining weight is obviously there as a consequence.

However, it is not as simple as that. Calories from the 3 macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) are shall we say, consumed by the body differently. That means, the effects of the energy yield on the body (such as gaining or losing weight) can be different for each of the macronutrients.

The Cellular Level of Calorie Consumption:

To understand what we are trying to explain here, let’s probe on the cellular level of calorie consumption. The organelle mitochondria serve as the powerhouse of each of the cells in the body. This is where the substances from the macronutrients are broken down. In basic physiology, this is where the integrated fuel metabolism gets pumped in the so-called “Kreb’s cycle.”

The Kreb’s cycle is a process in every cell where the fuel intermediates from the macronutrients are plugged in. This is where the production of the energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is done. ATP yields energy in calories at around 7,300 calories per one ATP molecule! This is used up by your body in physiological processes and when you do activities.

The calories for each macronutrient are processed and yielded at different rates, such that energy from carbohydrate are the most immediate to yield its calories from glucose molecules. It enters the cellular process as quickly as the carbohydrate molecules are broken down to glucose, unlike proteins and fats which enters the process in a longer and more complicated manner, so to speak.

Calories from Carbohydrates:

The issue now applies on the idea that consuming high amounts of carbohydrates is basically weight-gaining (with the exception of fibers). The energy yielded by this macromolecule can be momentarily used up by the body, besides the fact that it can cause other metabolic issues (such as spikes in insulin levels). How can calorie from carbohydrates be considered as weight-gaining?

The fate of the energy from carbohydrate is either used up immediately (that is if you do proper exercise training or burn them all through daily activities) or stored as fats in the body (if not burned properly). The low-carbohydrate diet helps in this regard by allowing the body to consume other sources of energy from fats (stored or eaten) and protein intake. The body’s engine can turn this machinery to the process of lipolysis if you control your calorie intake from carbohydrate sources.

Count Your Calories Accordingly:

When you engage in paleo diet, calorie counting has to be considered also. It does not mean that since carbohydrate intake is minimized, the perilous effects of acquiring calories from other food sources should be ignored. Take note that these are still energies that need to be used up.

In low-carbohydrate diet, you are taking the advantage of eliminating the unnecessary caloric intake from carbohydrate sources which are of course much more fattening and can even cause other metabolic issues.

Always remember that you need to burn the calories from the food you eat in order not to store them as fats in your body. In paleo diet, you have just started to exclude the bad effects of calories from carbohydrates. You just need to follow on this plan and vigilantly watch your caloric intake in connection with your daily activities and exercises.


Atkins, E C (2002) Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution. (HarperCollins Publisher, New York, New York) p. 17.

NutriStrategy (2010) ‘Caloric Content of Fat, Protein, Carbohydrates and Alcohol’ . Accessed: 06/25/11.

Colman R J, et al (2009) ‘Caloric Restriction Delays Disease Onset and Mortality in Rhesus Monkeys’ . Accessed: 06/25/11.

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