Calories…. are they good, bad, evil or what?!
It’s amusing when I see an energy drink advertisement that boasts “lots of energy but no Calories”. Calories are a measurement of energy! If there is no Carbohydrate, Fat, Protein or alcohol in a food or beverage to provide Calories, you can’t get any energy from it! The caffeine in some of those drinks will release some stored energy from your body though… but be careful, sometimes it’s too much for some people!
Back to Calories… officially the definition is 1 Kilocalorie (or Calorie) is “the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius.” Put simply, Calories in food tell us how much energy (as heat, work or electrical energy) is available in that food. You would think ENERGY GOOD, right? Well yes and no. Good if you’re going to convert extra Calories into work, or heat, essentially “burning” them off. Calories may not be so great if you take in so many that you store them for later… much later! The bulk of our Calories actually go into our Basal Metabolic functions… keeping our heart pumping, our lungs respiring and our brains working. Some Calories even get used in simply digesting and absorbing our food. The remainder will be used for physical activity and other variable activities. Another very important point is that we need micronutrients, especially B vitamins, to turn that food into energy that we can use.
So, how many Calories do we need? We can guestimate our Calorie needs by calculating 13.6 Calories per pound of body weight for maintenance and 10 Calories per pound of body weight for weight loss. That’s just for a quick estimate, ideally you should have a full Nutrition Consultation to take into account your individual needs. Click on Nutrition Consultation for more about my consultations through Metabolism.com.
Calories come from CARBOHYDRATE (4 Calories per gram), PROTEIN (4 Calories per gram), FAT (9 Calories per gram) and ALCOHOL (7 calories per gram). Some foods have a lot of fat and that is why they provide SO many Calories, even though the portion size is not that large. Calories from alcohol also surprise people as they may be consuming hundreds of Calories in liquid form and not even realize it.
Extra Calories will be stored either as Glycogen (stored carbohydrate) or body fat. Carbohydrate, protein and fat in the diet can ALL be converted to fat in the body. It is important to note though that 25% of the extra Calories from Carbohydrate or Protein will get “burned up” in the conversion to body fat. Only 3% of the extra Calories from fat will get “burned up” in the conversion. That is another reason why eating lots of high fat foods can make us fat faster.
So take a look at your lifestyle. Are you in ENERGY EQUILIBRIUM? You may need to decrease Calorie intake and increase Calorie output to achieve the balance that you want!
Beth Ellen DiLuglio, MS, RD, CNSD, CCN, LD/N
Registered and licensed dietitian, Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Nutrition Support Dietitian/Clinician, Master of Science from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. www.NutritionMission.org