What Are Calories?

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We cut them and count them trying to slim down. Calories are a unit measure of energy that our bodies use to fuel our cells. Energy consumption is gained through our eating and drinking. Energy usage is through the physical activity that we get from exercising, working, or anytime we exert our energy. Food and drink are usually associated with calories, however anything containing energy has calories. For example, a ton of coal is the equivalent in energy of 7,004,684,512 calories. The Medical dictionary defines a Calorie as energy or a unit of heat content. There are small and large calories, the small calorie (cal) is the amount of energy needed to raise one gram of water by one degree and the large calorie (Cal) is the amount of energy needed to raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. It takes one thousand small calories to equal one large calorie. When you see a food calorie used as a Calorie (capital C), these numbers indicate the amount of fuel or energy your cells are able to extract from metabolizing the nutrients in the foods that are eaten.

There also discretionary calories known as “empty calories”. These are the calories that are consumed that have very little nutritional value. Empty calories have virtually no amino acids, antioxidants, dietary fibers, dietary minerals, or vitamins. Most of the empty calories come from solid fats and added sugars.

Calories and Health

Our bodies need calories to survive or our hearts and lungs will stop and our cells would die. Without energy from food and drink we would absolutely perish. To maintain our health it is very important to consume just the number of calories our bodies need every day. If our calorie count gets too high or too low, we will eventually experience mild to severe health issues.

Here are the three main component values of the food we eat:

  •    1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
  •    1 gram of protein contains 4 calories
  •    1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

A good example is a cup of large eggs, about 243 grams.

  •    Fat 24 grams-   24 x 9 = 216 calories.
  •    Protein 31 grams-     31 x 4 = 124 calories.
  •    Carbohydrate 2 grams-      2 x 4 = 8 calories

So, basically 243 grams of raw egg contain 348 calories, of which 216 come from fat, 124 from protein and 8 from carbohydrate.

Besides the amount of calories that are consumed, another important issue is when you eat and drink. Some research has shown that a large breakfast of about 700 calories helps control body weight. This regiment is ideal for lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and losing or gaining weight. Taking in more calories than you need to maintain a healthy body can lead to obesity, metabolic disorders, and an increased risk of cancer. There are empty calories to keep into consideration, especially the calories of alcohol are considered empty and can displace essential nutrients even though they provide you with energy.


Calorie Counting

Everyone’s body is different so the amount of calorie requirements daily may differ. Calorie requirements are dependent on several factors, a person’s overall health, sex, weight, height, physical activity demands, and overall condition. Not all health authorities agree on the exact daily calorie consumption. The many governments are varied but range from 1800 to 2700 calories a day pending where you live and the other factors regarding individual health.

Counting calories goes both ways. Eating an apple may have 70 calories, while walking a mile may utilize 90 calories. On food labels the calories are usually in kilocalories and the units are of one thousand small calories. In reality a 200 calorie candy bar is actually 200,000 calories. The potential energy is gauged by the number of calories foods contain. Some countries have adapted the standard practice of including energy information on labels in joules instead of calories (kilocalories). With age our bodies tend to need fewer calories daily, which is probably due to the decrease in physical activity.

Research has shown that more than 11% of calories in the USA come from fast foods. Many fast food restaurants have meals on their menus that have calorie counts that are a lot higher than the daily recommend calorie intake.

Empty calories are solid fats such as butter, shortening, and beef fat. Some of the empty calories from added sugars, which are calorific sweeteners, are added during industrial processing to the foods and drinks. The most common added sugars are high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose. These added fats and sugars make our foods and beverages more desirable and enjoyable, but they add the most calories. Some of the foods that have the most empty calories are ice cream, donuts, pastries, cookies, cakes. Also the solid fats that are considered empty calories are ribs, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, cheese, and pizza. Some of the added sugars can be found in some beverages are fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sodas. By purchasing these products in low-fat, low-sugar or no sugar will help to reduce the empty calorie count in your daily consumption.

Helpful Tips

When calorie counting, there are charts and great apps available for ease and convenience. In time most people get into the habit of calorie counting and it becomes second nature. Eating healthier and watching your calorie count will give your body the energy it needs. When needing additional energy for your body can be as easy as altering the foods that are not as high in energy for the higher energy foods.

Just remember this simple equation: If a can of soda has 200 calories listed on the container, then the calories are actually 200,000 calories. The same works for burning calories, if the chart says you will burn 100 calories jogging, you will actually be burning 100,000 calories.

Some people count calories as a daily regimen, however if you are knowledgeable with healthy food and beverages your body will maintain healthiness and have energy.

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  • Christine

    Reply Reply March 8, 2016

    I’ve tried counting calories so many times, but even with the apps that make it easier I still found it to be a major hassle. I imagine that it can grow to be second nature for some, but it’s always been too time consuming for me to track every little thing. I’m trying to find a method that works for me, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to start doing this again.

  • Erin

    Reply Reply March 12, 2016

    Thanks for the clarification on what calories are.

    I sometimes try counting my calories but end up messing up or forgetting.

  • Danni

    Reply Reply March 13, 2016

    I hear most people say that carb counting is more effective than calorie counting. Kind of what you are saying here – not all calories are created equal.

  • Maddie

    Reply Reply March 14, 2016

    I have never quite understood calories. I do count mine, but just to make sure I don’t overeat. I care less about the number than I do making sure the number isn’t excessive. If I’m not mistaken, aren’t calories essentially the nutrients of foods added up in a number? For instance, the sodium, protein, etc. of a food can be put into calories to sort of “sum it up”?

  • Beth

    Reply Reply March 17, 2016

    Wow I guess I really didn’t know what a calorie was until now. I liked the little conversion table you showed us. I download an app to help me count calories so I hope this helps!

  • Kim Rawks

    Reply Reply March 17, 2016

    Something I eat too many of? Sigh. I’m actually pretty good at counting calories and it helps me when I’m at restaurants.

  • Jennifer

    Reply Reply March 18, 2016

    My biggest problem was the empty calories that came from soda. I used to drink way too much of it. Fortunately I can scratch that itch now with low-cal flavored water and the occasional diet soda.

    • Anna

      Reply Reply March 19, 2016

      Oh my gosh!! Me too!! Pepsi is my weekness. I try not to have to much of it. Maybe twice a month. I use to be one a day so I’m getting much better with this at least! 🙂

    • Kim Rawks

      Reply Reply March 23, 2016

      I’m with you there. Growing up in the south, there was either iced tea – sweet, or soda. Drink way too much of it.

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