Basic nutrition 101: Calories

5 things you need to know about calories and what it does.

1) Calories are energy.

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Humans and all other living creatures require energy for survival, but where does this energy come from?


The thing is, how do we quantify said mentioned energy? That’s where calories come in.

A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy.
1 calorie is the approximate energy required to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree’s Celsius, about 4.184 Joules to be exact for all you melancholic out there.

Today we generally measure calories in the form of Kilo calories or Kcals.

If we further break this down, this form of energy come from 3 major nutrient groups or the macro nutrients, carbs, protein and fats, where 1g of carbs and protein provides approximately 4 kcal and 1g of fat providing 9 kcal.

2) Each person has different daily caloric requirements.

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From birth all the way to end of life, every single person at every different life cycle has a different daily caloric need.

Now for the general adult population, there are general rule of thumbs based on where you’re from, most country health organisations recommend somewhere within the 2,000 Kcal – 2,500 Kcal/day range, give or take 200 Kcal or so.

But the truth is, to just give a range sometimes can be very misleading and unhelpful.

Here’s why, a range is an average of caloric needs of a certain nation and may or may not necessarily be appropriate for you.

Depending on many factors like age, weight, height, physical activity level, enzyme level and many more, a person’s caloric requirement will certainly differ from 1 to another.

How is determined?

Well normally, in most hospitals or practices, dietitians tend to stick to certain Kcal/Kg guidelines depending on the condition of the patient, and some even compare them with multiple other equations and formulas derived from many many years of research on the matter.

But the true gold standard is the indirect calorimetry method where, a person’s body at rest is placed in an enclosed chamber with certain fixed environmental factors, and the gases exchange via breathing is then used to determine the person’s basal metabolic rate or essentially, the minimum amount of calories needed to keep you alive, from there we can then extrapolate it to your daily caloric needs depending on your physical activity level and what not.

Technical, huh?

So what I’m trying to get at, is the next time someone comes over and tell you, hey man, I went down to this 1,500 Kcal/day diet and I’m super fit and slim now, it may not necessarily work for you, get it?

3) Calories are the first component of proper nutrition.

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When it comes to obesity, one of the worst non-communicable diseases known to mankind, or just basic proper nutrition for that matter, calories are very very important.

Here’s why,

You may be eating the healthiest fruits on planet earth, or the best nuts from your own organic farm, but the truth is, if what you’re eating is way in excess (500-800 Kcal/day extra) from what your bodily needs are, the truth is, you’re definitely gonna put on weight if that energy ain’t used somewhere else, and in the long run, will lead to obesity.

So understanding that your total energy intake is paramount to proper nutrition is essential, with enough knowledge, you’ll then know how to compensate for an increase in fats in 1 diet by reducing carbs or whatever in your next.

4) Calorie dense or calorie light foods are not good or evil. It depends.

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Alright, so if that’s the case, I shouldn’t go for calorie dense foods right? Cause that stuff gonna make fatttttt.

Well, it depends.

I’m sorry, but when it comes to health and nutrition, you’re gonna get a lot of “it depends” answers.

What calorie dense or light simple means, is that in this serving of food, there’s a lot or very little calories.

Now for people who works supppppppeeeeeeer looooooooong hours, calorie dense foods are helpful, because they help meet up energy needs within a smaller period of time (with that said, I tend to lean towards higher fibre high caloric foods if you catch my drift).

But for people like some of my previous clients who are trying to lose weight, caloric light foods are very helpful, because they keep them full throughout the day with minimal caloric intake and also increase their metabolism for more weight loss inducing effect.

So, the question right back at you is, what’s your lifestyle like? What are you gonna benefit more from?
Get it? Food and nutrition is a package!

5) Calorie counting is useful but it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying foods.

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There are many ways to count your calories.

Normally I only suggest 2, using a phone app or by eye ball portion estimation.

There are many apps now available in the app store or on google play, one I’ve personally used, but not religiously I must say, is fitness pal, which essentially is an app based database where you key in the food you’ve just eaten and it’s respective portion, and it keeps track for you how much food you can continue eating.

The other way I normally practice and teach others to do, is to keep track of the food types you eat, carbs, proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables.

I’m a big fan of the MY healthy plate concept where, during your main meals you should have half your plate with fruits and vegetables, 1 quarter carbs and the other protein.

It’s a much simpler and approachable method of nutrition that I find works well with many of my patients.

It may not be as accurate as keeping track with a food database and a weighing scale (yes some people do this), but it gives a lot of liberty to anyone when it comes to food and nutrition and I feel that if you feel constricted while becoming healthy, something’s wrong.

Food should be enjoyable, nutritious or not.

Nutritious and healthy foods can be enjoyable, it’s always about the portions.

For more details on what you should eat for your bodily needs, consult a dietitian!


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