So we all know what a calorie is right…that number printed on the majority of prepared foods we buy and can now be seen on many menus in restaurants and cafes too. But what actually is a “calorie”? Should we be counting them? And if so how many should we be eating?
Technically the number you find on your food items is actually referring to kilocalories (1000 calories) and that is why kcal is used as the unit for “calories” instead of cal. In scientific terms a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1g of water by 1oC at 1 atmosphere, which sounds kind of complicated but you just have to think of a calorie as a measure of energy found within the food. Next to the kcal value there is often another number that is an alternative measure of energy, kilo joules (kJ); 1 kcal = 4.184 kJ. We need energy from our food in order for our body to function and different nutrients contain varying amounts of energy. On average fat contain 9kcal/g, where carbohydrates and proteins contain 4kcal/g; these are the figures used by food corporations to calculate the macros within their products, however since they are averages interestingly what you see printed on the packaging may not be as accurate as you assumed. Although there are inaccuracies these tend to balance out over all the products you eat so overall your still most likely consuming the same total amount.
It is important that we balance the energy we take in via our food and the energy we expend. Each of us require a different amount of energy to function and this is affected by our height, build, genetics, metabolic rate, activity level etc. Remember energy is used even when we are sitting still doing nothing, which is known as your basal metabolic rate, as our body needs fuel to carry out physiological functions such as breathing and blood circulation. Additionally we use energy digesting food, moving, and doing exercise. If the energy you consume exceeds the energy you expend weight gain tends to follow. I am not suggesting counting calories is the way forward at all, far from it actually as from my own experience this can lead to overthinking when it comes to what you eat and losing the enjoyment you get from food. You could eat 2000kcal (a woman’s recommended daily amount) of chocolate and not gain weight if that’s all you eat day in day out, but I don’t think your insides are going to be in such a great condition or your complexion either. You should concentrate more on the nutritional quality of what you’re eating, and ensure that enough fats, protein, carbohydrates as well as vitamins, mineral and fibre is included in your diet. Protein and whole grain foods are digested a lot slower than refined carbohydrates such as white bread, so they can keep us feeling fuller for longer and satisfied after a meal rather than craving more. By understanding food better you can improve your health, maintain a healthy weight and ….food is one of life’s pleasure so enjoy it!