'Calorie' is not a negative word

Learn more about this unit of measurement that is often misunderstood.

There are many reasons why we eat, one of the most important reasons is to fuel and nourish our bodies. A calorie is a measurement of energy. The amount of calories we need to consume depends on a variety of individual factors including our activity level, our age, our gender and how much we weigh. For example, our weight is important because it relates to size and the bigger we are, the more ‘fuel’ we need to move around.

A rule of thumb is that we burn about 100 calories walking one mile. You can see how it would take a lot of mileage to burn the calories contained in just one high-caloric meal.

Many people are curious about how much exercise is needed to assure we are losing weight. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers, the amount varies with each individual. Calorie balance or ‘energy balance’ is the balance between the calories (energy) we take in by eating and those we burn-up through activity. Our bodies will use up calories in everything we do such as moving, breathing and sleeping. Generally, the harder we work (exercise) the more calories we burn. We will burn more calories dancing than we will burn watching TV.

The amount of calories in a particular food will vary depending upon the amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein it contains. The amount of calories in a particular food, like an apple, will also vary depending upon the size of each specific apple.

The amount of calories (energy) in each gram of fat, carbohydrates and protein are different. For every gram of fat, there are 9 calories, in every gram of carbohydrates there are 4, and every gram of protein there is also 4 calories.

Therefore, if we ate the 10 grams of fat you would consume more calories than if you ate 10 grams of protein.

However, the quantity of calories is not the only thing that matters. The quality of calories or what is called ‘nutrient density’ is also important. We have explained how the body needs energy (calories) to fuel activity, much the same way gas fuels a car. A super-sized meal contains plenty of calories but they are what one would call ‘empty calories’. Empty calories are the calories in foods that have little or no nutritional value. For example, many baked goods like donuts are very high in calories but have little nutritional value. Our body needs nutrients not just energy. So the best choice of ‘fuel’ is food that is nutrient-dense.

Some suggestions on balancing our calories and choosing more nutrient-dense options are:

  • Eat slowly
  • Drink water before your meal
  • Move more during the day
  • Snack on veggies instead of cookies
  • Add flavor with a mixture of spices instead of salt
  • Skip fries and choose a salad
  • Read the label to find the hidden fats, carbohydrates and sodium in food.

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