Good Calories, Bad Calories?

What’s more important, what you eat or how much you eat? Dietitians are often asked this question …are all calories created equal?
Glass of fresh milk isolated on a white background

Glass of fresh milk isolated on a white background

Glass of fresh milk isolated on a white background

Photo by: Tarasyuk Igor

Tarasyuk Igor

What’s more important, what you eat or how much you eat? Dietitians are often asked this question: Are all calories created equal?

Good?

Yes, calories are calories whether they come from carrots or cookies but that’s not the end of the story. Foods are diverse and offer more than just calories so to truly evaluate the quality of calories, consider their nutrient density.

“Good” calories are nutrient-dense, which means you get the most bang for your calorie buck. For example, compare 100 calories of soda to 100 calories of milk. Calories from soda provide sugar and that’s just about all. That same number of calories from milk provide protein, calcium and vitamins A and D – therefore, the milk is a more nutrient-dense food.

But even the most nutrient-dense foods can get us into trouble. Peanut butter, olive oil and avocados are high in heart-healthy fats but the calories can stack up quickly – here’s where portion control is key.

Bad?

“Bad” calories tend to score low in the nutrient department and eating too much of them can negatively affect health. Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can lead to heart disease and a diet overflowing with sugary foods isn’t good for your waistline. That said, ALL foods can be included in a healthy diet as long the majority are “good.” So enjoy the chocolate, cookies or occasional fried treat, just be smart about how much and how often you indulge and always remember that portion control is key.

Bottom Line: In the grand scheme of a healthy diet, it does matter where your calories come from. Opt for sensible portions of mostly nutrient-dense foods so you can give your body what it needs. This will leave some room for the less healthy foods that you love to eat.

Tell Us: What’s your take on good and bad calories?

You Might Also Like:

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

Keep Reading

Next Up

100-Calorie Snack Packs: Good or Bad?

"Unsatisfying," "pricey" and "not eco-friendly" are words you might use to describe these smaller packaged snack goods. Sure, they're convenient, but are they really healthy or helpful? I’m not a big fan of the 100-calorie packs and here’s why.

Shellfish: Good or Bad?

Once taken off the menu for being too high in cholesterol, it turns out that shellfish can be a tasty part of a heart healthy diet.

Pork: Good or Bad?

There has been controversy lately about whether pork is healthy or safe to eat. So you can make your own educated decision, we offer the nutrition facts on pork. Is it really the “other white meat”?

Bagels: Good or Bad?

Who doesn’t love a bagel for breakfast -- but are they a wise choice? People are always surprised (and a little freaked out) to hear how many slices of bread they’d have to eat to match the calories in one bagel. Here’s the good and the bad.

Cream: Good or Bad?

With boatloads of calories and artery clogging saturated fat, can cream be part of a healthy diet?

Milk: Good or Bad?

We're talking about cows' milk, that is. Many folks view milk as wholesome and healthy. Others, meanwhile, warn us away and say it's full of hormones or might make you phlegmy. So what’s the deal with milk: does it do your body good or not?

Pasta: Good or Bad?

Trying to find healthy and delicious recipes? Food Network makes that easy with their collection of low fat, low calorie and low carb recipes.

Eggs: Good or Bad?

Over the years, eggs have gotten a bad rap as cholesterol no-nos. But should you totally ditch them in your diet?

Coffee: Good or Bad?

Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day. In Italy, people down 14 billion espressos every year. But the coffee-guzzling king is Finland, where residents drink more coffee than anywhere else in the world. Clearly, coffee is one of our favorite beverages, but is it good or bad?

Granola: Good or Bad?

Some view granola as an all-star health food, others think it’s belly fat in a box! Here are the pros and cons on this crunchy breakfast staple.