Calories, what they are and why we should care.
We might hear this term every day of our lives, yet how many of you ever stop and think about what exactly a calorie might be?
We know that our food and drink contains calories.
We know too many will cause us to get fat.
We know that some will insist we need to count our calories while others believe this minor task bears no importance.
Yet, how many of us actually know what a calorie is and why they are important to us?
A calorie is a unit of energy. Historically, scientists have defined “calorie” to mean a unit of energy or heat that could come from a variety of sources, such as coal or gas. In a nutritional sense, all types of food — whether they are fats, proteins, carbohydrates or sugars — are important sources of calories, which people need to live and function.
“Our brains, our muscles, to include every cell in our bodies, require energy to function in an optimal state. For good health and well being, we must nourish our bodies and brain with good nutrition. If we don’t get enough proper nutrients that calories provide, there are negative consequences. These negative consequences include losing lean muscle mass, not being able to concentrate or even having the energy we need on a day-to-day basis to get us through life.
The physics of a calorie.
According to an article in the Journal of Nutrition, titled “History of the Calorie in Nutrition,” in 1863, a calorie was defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water from 0 to 1 degree Celsius. In 1925, calories became scientifically defined in terms of joules, which are units typically used by physicists to describe the amount of work needed to force one newton through one meter. This is why you sometimes see calories being called kilojoules, especially in Europe and Australia. One calorie equals 4.18 joules; 1 joule equals 0.000239006 of a calorie.
The amount of heat needed to make a calorie differs at different temperatures, so scientists decided to create different types of calories according to their water temperature. Different temperatures yield different types of calories, such as the small calorie, also called the gram calorie or the 15-degree calorie. This calorie refers to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water from 14.5 to 15.5 degrees Celsius.
A calorie in nutrition is actually 1,000 of these small calories. Some researchers use the term kilocalories to refer to the nutritional unit of 1,000 small calories. These units of 1,000 small calories are also sometimes called large calories, dietary calories, nutritional calories, food calories and Calories with a capital C.
Therefore, what Americans see on food labels are actually kilocalories, or kilojoules. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that one medium-size apple contains 95 calories, it actually contains 95 kilocalories.
Different types of macro-nutrients have standard amounts of calories. One gram of protein has 4 calories. One gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories. One gram of fat has 9 calories, according to the McKinley Health Center. (1)
Do we really need to track our caloric intake?
If you care about your weight, you damn sure better be tracking your caloric intake in some manner, even if in your head.
That being said, I would only advise a mental tracking to one who is not overweight or obese.
But my weight loss group I joined does not require me to track calories, and neither does my Keto plan!
There are a couple of issues to address here:
If you are paying to belong to a weight loss group who tells you that you do not need to track calories, you might want to consider what their true agenda might be. Do they care about me losing weight, or can I be manipulated into being a perpetual income stream for them?
Tracking and measuring is a form of accountability.
You need to be accountable to yourself for your weight and health.
Odds are pretty high that if you are over weight, or obese, you have never been truly accountable for any length of time when it comes to your nutritional habits. I’m sorry if that hurt, but I have been there too and know this from personal experience.
How do I lose weight on Keto and some of the other popular diets or eating plans?
Whether or not some people want to accept this as a universal truth, the “calories in versus calories out” model is based on the reality that for you to maintain a stable weight, the number of calories you eat needs to match the number you expend.
“Calories in” refers to the calories you get from the foods you eat, while “calories out” is the number of calories you burn.
There are three main bodily processes that burn calories:
- Basic metabolism. Your body uses most of the calories you get from food to sustain basic functions, such as your heartbeat. This is commonly referred to as your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
- Digestion. Around 10–15% of the calories you eat is used to power digestion. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and varies based on the foods you eat.
- Physical activity. The leftover calories you get from your diet are meant to fuel your physical activity, including workouts and everyday tasks like walking, reading, and washing dishes. (2)
When the number of calories you take in from food matches the number of calories you burn to sustain your metabolism, digestion, and physical activity, your weight will remain stable.
Thus, the “calories in versus calories out” model is strictly true. I do not care what your weight loss group has told you as you hand over your monthly dues money, your body requires a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. It is a simple fact of life that from a biological perspective, you must consume fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. There’s no way around it, you are not a special snowflake this fact does not apply to. When I was still a young boy in school it was taught to us that once your body’s energy needs are met, extra calories are stored for future use in your muscles as glycogen, but most as fat. Thus, eating more calories than you burn will cause you to gain weight, whereas eating fewer than you need will cause weight loss.
But, but I read a study that said…
Yes, there are some studies you might find that make it appear as if what you eat matters more than how much you eat, implying that the calorie content of your diet is irrelevant for weight loss. However, these studies are based on a few incorrect assumptions. You have to be careful of what you read as some these studies only report the total amount of weight lost, without mentioning whether the weight loss came from muscle, fat, or water losses. Additionally, some of these different studies and diets affect muscle and water losses differently, which can make it seem as if they are more effective for fat loss when this isn’t truly the case.
Have you ever considered why Keto appears to work good for people?
A ketogenic diet is high in fat, moderate in protein and extremely low in carbs. As carbs are reduced and fat is increased, the body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. Then the body starts turning fats into ketones, which are molecules that can supply energy for the brain. It is a scientific truth that after a few days or weeks on Keto, the body and brain become very efficient at burning fat and ketones for fuel instead of carbs. The ketogenic diet also lowers insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, are two of the main reasons this diet has so many health benefits. But, what is often left out of Keto discussions is the fact you have become full, your body is satiated from the foods you have consumed before you have reached the caloric needs to maintain or gain weight. It works because you are at a caloric deficit.
When trying to lose weight, it’s critical to create a calorie deficit no matter your plan or method.
If you switch to a ketogenic diet and just randomly eat anything Keto friendly you desire while not watching your calorie intake, you are quite unlikely to drop pounds. Because many Keto-friendly foods, including avocados, olive oil, full-fat dairy and nuts, are high in calories, it’s important not to overdo it. Most people feel more satisfied after eating ketogenic meals and snacks due to the filling effects of fat and protein. However, it’s still entirely possible to consume too many calories on a ketogenic diet by eating portions that are too large or by snacking on high-calorie foods throughout the day. Paying attention to portion size, increasing physical activity and snacking in moderation between meals can help create the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
Ever wonder why you occasionally see fat Vegans?
Vegan Overeating is Still Overeating
Simply put, weight loss success is achieved only when your choices reflect an overall decrease in calories going in and a corresponding increase in calories out. Factors that contribute to weight loss on a Vegan diet are significantly associated with weight loss included decreased dessert, sugar-sweetened drink, and fried food consumption and less eating out at restaurants. Or simply put, a caloric deficit.
Candy corn is just as vegan as an apple but from a nutrient standpoint they are far from equal. The same goes for vegan baked goods, potato chips, deep-fried foods, etc. Vegan foods high in fat, sugar and calories are just as unhealthy as their animal counterparts so don’t be fooled into thinking “it’s vegetarian so I can eat as much as I want”.
No matter who you are, or what you might believe, weight loss always results from a caloric deficit. This is true regardless of whether your calories come from carbs, fat, or protein. Of course there are factors such as hormonal imbalances which can interfere with you being able to maintain a body at a healthy weight, however, these problems can most often be prevented from occurring in the first place through proper nutrition.
Be accountable to yourself!
Commit yourself to being the best you can be!
Be healthy and well!