We all refer to them when talking about food, but what does a calorie actually mean?
A calorie is a unit of energy. Therefore the amount of calories in any given food is simply describing the total amount of energy that food is provides your body. Technically speaking, 1 calorie is enough energy to raise 1 litre of water by 1 degree. It can also be used to describe the amount of energy in other things, not just food.
Why are calories important?
Our bodies are constantly moving, building, repairing and performing other important tasks that require fuel. Food provides this energy. Different nutrients contain different amounts of energy in calories. Carbohydrates and Protein contain 4 calories per gram, whereas Fat contains 9 calories per gram.
Are all calories the same when it comes to weight?
This is a question that has been debated for many years. In other words, does it matter where calories come from or is it simply the total daily calories that determines weight.
The answer is no, calories are not all created the same. Two meals with identical calorie content can be broken down and used in completely different ways by the body based on their nutritional content. For many years “Fat” was frowned upon because of it’s higher calorie content compared to Carbohydrates and Protein. This lead to the rise of reduced fat and skim products, which has done little to curb growing waistlines.
Nutrient to calorie ratio
What is far more important that simply counting calories is eating foods that have a high nutrient to calorie ratio. This means avoiding foods with empty calories such as chocolates, soft drinks, white bread and high fat take-away. What you should aim to do is choose foods based on how many nutrients they contain. Nuts are a good example. Although high in fat and packed with calories, nuts contain a huge amount of micronutrients, minerals and fiber. Research shows that the more nuts people eat, the healthier they are and the less they weigh. Nuts have a high nutrient to calorie ratio.
This way of eating lends itself to wholefoods close to their natural source. The less processed a food is, the more nutrients it is likely to contain.
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