Is a Calorie really Just a Calorie?

A recently published medical article discusses research done at the Functional Medicine Research Institute  in Gig Harbor, Washington. One of the principle authors of the article is my long time friend, teacher and colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Bland (see my picture with him below). Dr. Bland reviews this article in  his May 2006 monthly audio newsletter. Many of his comments are so well said that I have copied them into this article. Whenever I am quoting from his newsletter below you will see quotation marks around his words.

          For decades our society has assumed that calories are the name of the game; specifically, as long as you adjust the calories with the right ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrate percentages, there will be a favorable outcome.

          Now there comes an exciting study that shows the role of Nutrigenomics on our biochemistry and subsequently on our health in general.
          Nutrigenomics is the science that studies how our nutritional intake affects the expression of our genes. We learn in medical school, and many people still believe, that if you have a “certain gene” you are predestined to develop a certain health condition. The new science of genetics however shows us this is quite erroneous. Specific environmental factors —  which include the very nature of the food we eat and other nutrients we intake, as well as toxins in our environment — can turn on or off the genes that we have received from our parents. This is all to say, “there are many you’s within you."

The food we eat delivers information to our genes and thus affects how those genes express themselves. As the genes express themselves, so is our biochemistry.

The most recent public example of this information is Morgan Sperlock in his movie, “Super Size Me.” In this movie, Mr. Sperlock had more than just super-sizing of calories. “He also had super-sizing of bad information from toxic food that was inducing different gene expression patterns.” It was not just the calories in and of themselves that created the multiple effects he saw in his body, but the information in the particular calories that he consumed.


          Now in this exciting study from the Journal of Nutrition, we get an answer to the question, “What happens if you hold the percent of calories as protein, carbohydrate and fat comparable, but you change the information coming from the food between the two groups?” If you do this “Would there be a difference in outcome in the two groups?”


          The bottom-line results of this study showed such an overwhelming difference between the two groups, that no one can help but recognize the power of Nutrigenomics in our health.


          Specifically in this this study by Lukaszer, Bland, et al,  they took two groups of post-menopausal women at risk for coronary artery disease. (Cardiovascular disease, as everyone knows, is the leading cause of death in both women and men.)


          Half of the women in this study followed the American Heart Association’s proven diet program for weight loss. The other half of the group was put on a “low glycemic index” (LGID) diet which included protein powder containing soy isoflavones and phytosterols. All patients in the study were followed for 12 weeks.


          The study results showed that both groups lost about the same amount of weight, as would be expected from the American Heart Association Diet Guidelines. (AHAD)


          The results also showed that the American Heart Association diet group had an improvement in their total cholesterol and their triglycerides and their body composition. But, “these changes paled in comparison to the members of the LGID group, who had the same calorie intake and the same exercise, but had a different level of phytochemical intake and different diet persuasion. These individuals had a 46% reduction in their triglyceride to HDL cholesterol ratio and a significant reduction in total and LDL cholesterol.  They also had a significant reduction in their highly sensitive C-reactive protein (hsCRP), a significant reduction in fasting insulin” as well as another measurement that indicates tendencies toward diabetes or pre-diabetes.


          The degree of difference in improvement between the AHAD group and the LGID group was statistically significant at levels rarely seen in the medical literature. For example, on the LGID diet, there was a significant decrease of the total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio at a p value less than 0.0001 level, as well as the triglyceride/HDL cholesterol ratio, also at the level of  p less than 0.0001.


          Of note, the total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio did not significantly change at all for the AHAD group. The triglyceride/HDL cholesterol ratio approached, but did not reach, significance in this group, either.


          What this study tells us is the extreme power of Nutrigenomic tailoring that leads to our getting the right information sent to our genes to produce the improved outcome.


          Jeffry Bland, in his review of this article, went to the medical literature to ask what drugs the LGID group of patients would have needed to be on to produce the same effects. Dr. Bland concluded the results were equivalent to putting patients on three drugs: Statins (for cholesterol) , Metformin ( for blood sugar), and ACE Inhibitors( for blood pressure and other heart risk factors).


          As Dr. Bland comments, these results “represent the best medicine, not alternative medicine, not complementary medicine, not integrative medicine, but the best medicine.” This is very exciting information, indeed, and something I want all of my patients to be aware of!


          I would like to make a comment about the fact that some people talk about the “toxic effects of soy.”  This is surprising in light of the fact that “there are hundreds of clinical trials that are published in the medical literature that demonstrate the beneficial effects of moderate amounts of soy in the diet.” This study showed that with “appropriate intake of approximately 30 milligrams of soy isoflavones (part of the soy protein isolate that is found in the LGID beverage and in the context of an overall well balanced low glycemic-index diet which is rich in plant foods, there are no toxic effects” from soy.


          Quite the opposite, as the article shows: “there is a highly desirable effect on every lipid, glucose, insulin, inflammation connection that was studied.”


          This is the future of medicine. We are watching a transformation facilitated by our increasing knowledge about the roles of our environment and our diet in relation to our gene expression and the resultant outcome in our daily health.


          This study clearly shows that often the very best medicine is found in the particular nutrients that we put into our bodies on a daily basis, along with the information that they carry to our genes.


          I invite all of my patients to have a lively conversation with me about this most exciting development in medicine.



Lukaczer, D., J. L. Deann, et al. (2006). "Effect of a low glycemic index diet with soy protein and phytosterols on CVD risk factors in postmenopausal women." Nutrition 22(2): 104-13.

About Dr. Soram Khalsa

As an MD, Dr Soram specializes in Integrative Medicine combining diet, nutrition, acupuncture, herbs and nutrition. Visit Dr Soram’s Healthy Living Store where you’ll find high-quality nutritional supplements:

  • Marlene Wallach

    Doctor – I read the CALORIE article with great interst.

    As a breast cancer “victor” I had been advised against any extra intake of soy as I had estrogen postive cells. Where does not fit into this picture and how would I address those concerns?


  • Sharon Messer

    Do you have copies of this LGID diet in the office?
    Sharon Messer

  • gayle furuta

    I’d be interested in a copy of the LGID diet as well.

    gayle furuta

  • Shari Mayer

    I, too am interested in having a copy of the LGID diet.

    Shari Mayer

  • Russell Heimstaedt

    Fascinating article. Dr. Sherry Rogers’ newsletter has hinted at the effect of toxins and nutrition on genes, but this is the first article I have seen that directly addresses the topic.

    I have been mixing whey protein powder with Vitamineral Greens as a snack for some time now. Is this basically the equivalent of what was used in the study?

  • Suzette Kitselman

    This is really interesting! I hate counting calories and truly pay no attention to them, but try to have at least 50% of my diet be fresh organic vegetables and fruits. Even though I still have chocolate almost daily, it doesn’t seem to put any extra weight on me!

  • richard schiff


    Thanks for the info… Just wondering what protein powders do you recommend? I am currently using Raw Power which is derived from Brazil nuts, hemp, maca and is all vegan. It’s been great fpr me as an addition to the many supplements I take from your shop.

    Let me know what you think of this powder and if it might be as beneficial or if I should switch to a soy based powder.


    Feeling pretty good these days while I’m in London.


  • Helen Giroux

    What foods are on the NO list of the LGID diet?

  • Elayne Horton

    I thought the article was very interesting and would like to talk with you about it on my next office visit. Thank you so much for the information. Elayne Horton

  • Wilma Joanis

    I have been struggling with a weight problem for sometime now and significantly increased after I quit smoking two years ago. Can you provide a copy of this diet so that I can try it and see if it works for me. I am currently taking thyroid, cholesterol and high blood pressure medication which puts me in a high risk category for heart disease.

  • Anne Hamburger

    Dr. Khalsa,

    So what specifically does this mean about how we should change what we eat? What should we avoid? What do we need to include? Dr. Eitches says I’m allergic to soy. I can eat it in small amounts like soy sauce on Chinese food but Edamame makes my throat itch.


  • Christine Healy

    Where can I find more detailed info re: the LGID diet? I definitely want to try it!

  • 1. Thank you for speaking to my question about Soy Toxicity in the media.

    2. This article was very exciting to me. It seems to explain the dramatic results I am seeing from the Amazon Herb products I have been taking for the last two years. Would it be accurate to say that being wild harvested and grown on virgin soil far from sources of pollution (and never irradiated in their transport process to the US or in shipping within the US) would account for their extremely high level of life force and their ability to impact health so dramatically? Is it possible that these formulas are actually effecting gene expression by carrying the information of healthy biodiversity inherent in the rainforest environment (and so lacking in food produced by our modern farming methods)? Could they also be carrying the vibration of gratitude created by the indigenous peoples who sing their thanks to the plants as they harvest them in a sustainable manner? I have seen the results in my health but not really understood the science behind it until now. Thank you for sharing this enlightening information.

  • Marsha

    What exact protein powder and other nutrients did they use for the LGID diet? I know someone who needs to get her cholesterol down and HDL up.

  • Dennis

    Dear DrS, I can’t tell you enough how good it is to be back in this city, with all its
    faults there is one great constant, you are here, thanks you for being here for me. I feel slightly Lost in the nutritioual world these days. After India and a almost vegiterian diet I’m questioning my protein intake. I think it’s time to set down again and discuss my direction. I’ll see you in a week or so and we can talk it over.

    Thanks again for be here for me, Love Dennis

  • jelle oortman gerlings

    dear soram,

    i hope this message finds you well. i recently found your blog while researching on lead poisoning on the web.

    thanks for sharing your knowledge. on our next visit, i would appreciate if we could discuss nutrigenomics and how those studies could contribute on a daily basis. i would also like to have our vitame d levels checked, although it is summer. thank you! jelle

  • lea porter

    Hi Dr,

    what a great infomative blog you have, I would love to get a copy of the LGID diet as well, will Hari email us this or should we contact her, what is the best way to get it? And as one of those people who sat through your symposium at Cedars, it was excellent and it would be very worthwile to make it available to all your clients,


  • Laura -Elayne’s cousin

    I have been on a low glycemic eating plan for almost 4 years now, and its the sensible, heart and blood sugar friendly way to eat. I am a size 4 because I eat low glycemic and exercise in the morning.

    Its amazing what it does to lower estrogen sensitive cancers too.

    The South Beach Diet was designed for Diabetics, Heart Patients, etc…, and the glycemic index on the web, was instrumental in my success. Good sense and just doing it, is the key. It should not cost a dime to get educated.