For years now, calories have been a huge craze. All foods, except water, has some. Every time you eat, you take in calories. Your weight management efforts will succeed on the basis of how much calories you take in versus those you burn off. Many people count calories as listed on the back of product boxes to try and lose weight. But a lot of people don't understand the concept which is why a lot of myths prevail. If you are truly interested in losing weight, it is worth your time to actually learn how calories work.
What are calories?
A calorie is essentially a measurement or unit of energy. The unit was first defined by Professor Nicolas Clément in 1824. Human beings need energy to survive. A calorie measures the energy in food and beverages we take in. This energy is used by the body to fuel physical activity as well as all metabolic processes, from maintaining your heartbeat to building muscle. Each food constituents supplies some amount of calories. Protein and Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Fat, on the other hand, has 9 calories per gram. Vitamins, minerals, natural chemicals found in plants, fiber and water do not supply calories.
What do calories do?
We need energy in order to survive. Every bodily process like breathing, pumping blood even metabolism requires energy. Humans acquire this energy from food. Our body burns the calories present in our food through metabolic processes to release energy which is either used up or stored as fat.
How much do we need?
In the case of calorie intake, it's always different strokes for different folks. The factors that affect your daily calorie needs include your age, height and weight, your basic level of daily activity, and your body composition. The recommended average daily calorie intake is of 1940 calories per day for women and 2550 for men. Larger people with more muscle need more calories. To calculate your recommended calorie intake, use the body analysis tool.
What is the relation of calories and weight loss?
The relationship is quite simple. Excess calories are stored in the body as fat which increases your weight. There are 2 ways to lose those excess calories:
- Eat fewer calories
- Burn more calories
For best results, it is recommended to do a combination of both.
When it comes to eating fewer calories you can rely on 'calorie counting'. First, find out how many calories you're currently consuming. You can figure that out by keeping a food journal. Track each food item that you eat for at least a week and figure out the calorie count for each food item (use the nutrional value tool). To find your average daily calorie intake, divide the total calorie intake by the number of days you tracked your intake. Once you know your average daily calorie intake, you can make changes in your diet to reduce your daily calorie intake to lose weight. Some of the changes you can make include reducing the portion size, replacing high calorie food with low-calorie food, etc. Along with this, do phyical activities such as jogging, walking, and cycling to help burn calories. The more physical exercise you get the more calories you will burn.
There are about 7700 calories in one kilogram (about 3500 calories in one pound). That means if you can spare 550 calories per day (by eating fewer calories and/or burning more calories), you will lose about half a kilo per week. This is because 550 calories below each day, multiplied by 7 days in a week, equals 3750 total calories under for the week. And, 3850 calories under equals about half a kilo of weight lost. The same goes for weight gain. If you are 550 above each day, you'll gain a about half a kilo per week.
What is the safe calorie level I can drop to when I am trying to lose weight?
It is not recommended to make large changes in your calorie intake as it can have a significant effect on your health. You should not consume less than 1200 calories a day under any circumstances, even if your daily calorie needs are very low. A very low calorie diet increases your risk for heart problems and gallstones, and should be followed only under a doctor's supervision. Going for a low caloric intake may yield quick results, but it may lead to muscle loss and a slowing of your metabolism. Also, a low calorie diet may not be able to provide your body with all the important vitamins and minerals.
A moderate calorie cut which includes cutting 150-300 calories from your daily diet and burning 150-300 calories in exercise is recommended for an active lifestyle. Reducing calories by 15% below your daily calorie maintenance needs is a useful start. It is generally recommended that weight should be gained or lost at a rate of about 0.5 to 0.8 kg (about 1 or 2 pounds) per week.
What are Empty and Hidden calories?
Empty calories are derived from those foods that offer little or no nutritional value. Foods like junk food, sodas, sugary drinks etc. add empty calories to your diet. On the other hand, hidden calories sneak into your food and add calories to it. Stuff like butter on paratha, sugar in tea etc. lead to an increase in the caloric value of the food.
Are all calories derived from different foods the same?
Lots of people wonder if it matters where their calories come from. But, to be honest, a protein calorie is no different from a fat calorie. The good old saying is always true, 'A calorie is a calorie is a calorie'. However, carbohydrate and proteins are considered good sources because more complex procedure is required to convert them to be stored as fat. Fat, on the other hand, requires a much simpler process and hence can be easily stored leading to weight gain. Also, a gram of fat provides 9 calories where as a gram od protein or carbohydrate provide 4 calories.
Calories are a good tell tale sign to count in to tell you whether you are overweight or not. Compute how many calories you should eat daily in order to lose weight and reach your goal. Understanding the basics of how calories work can go a long way to reach your weight loss goals.