Article written

  • on 30.09.2011
  • at 08:14 PM
  • by Guest Author

What is a Calorie and Why Do I Care?

Sep30

A calorie is a measure of energy, and more specifically of heat. In our day, we use this number to count the amount of energy in foods compared with the amount of energy that our bodies use during the day. Something else you may not know is that “calorie” is actually short for “kilocalorie”.

There are two types of calories, the small calorie and the large calorie. Small calories are a measure of how much energy it takes to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. A large calorie, also known as kilocalorie or food calorie, measures how much energy it takes to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Many foreign foods are labeled with kcal instead of just “calories”, as the U.S. does. Kcal and Calories are the same thing.

If you have ever been concerned about your health, you have probably already learned that by looking at the calorie content of any food, you can tell if it is a good choice for you to eat or not. Let’s discuss a little more about the importance of calories and how you can use calorie content on labels to your advantage.

How do they measure calories?

Most foods are made up of a variety of components. There are 7 main ones that actually produce caloric heat, or in other words, have calories. The four that we will be most concerned with as far as diet goes are fat, proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber. Just one gram of fat contains 9 calories. Both proteins and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. And finally, fiber contains a mere 2 calories per gram. Thus, in order to find the total amount of calories in a food you must determine how many grams of each calorie-holding ingredient is in the item.

Another possible way to determine calories in a food item is to burn it. Perhaps you did an experiment in your high school science class that taught you how this was done. Under controlled circumstances, you would measure how much heat was given off when a certain food item was burned. Then, using chemistry calculations, you would be able to determine the total number of calories in the food. This generic method doesn’t tell you how many of those calories come from the seven components mentioned above, but it can certainly be a fun experiment anyway.

How many calories should I have each day?

The number of calories you should eat each day is completely dependent upon your body. Men need more calories a day than women because their bodies contain more muscle mass. Athletes burn large amounts of calories and thus need to eat more in order to compensate. Overweight people actually need more calories to maintain their weight than those with a normal weight because it takes their body more work to perform its regular daily functions. Pregnant women need more calories than regular women. Older folks should eat few calories than adults and teenagers. We could go on and on about the differences in calorie intake for each person.

Basically, your body burns a certain amount of calories every day as you go about your regular activities, and even more if you add exercise to the mix. To maintain your weight, you must eat only as many calories as you burn. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns. The opposite if you want to gain weight. It all comes down to simple science and really knowing how your body responds under given conditions.

Luckily, there are plenty of online calculators that can help you figure out a general idea of how many calories you should eat a day in order to maintain weight, lose it, or even gain it. Having good health can be critical to preserve a balanced and happy life. If you have never tried it before, you should give label reading a try on your next shopping trip. It may surprise you how many calories are in some of the foods you find most enjoyable! Now that you understand what a calorie actually does and how it can affect your life, you will be able to take control of your own health and make wise health choices.

About the Author

Natalie Clive is a writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers is a one-stop resource for people who want to enroll in school. The site helps prospective students find online courses that are available to them as they reach for their career goals.

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