The Calorie

It is safe to say that we have all either heard of or used the term “calorie”. The question is, do we have a good understanding of what it means? I was working with a client recently and he asked about the connection between calories and fat. In that moment the idea for this article was born.

My understanding was that a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise a gram of water 1° Celsius. A quick Internet search demonstrated that there are several ways that the term “calorie” is used. For the purposes of this article, we need to understand that it is a measure of energy. It is the measurement of the energy produced by foods as they are broken down in our bodies. We also use it to measure the energy expended by our bodies – both at rest and while we are moving.

Our bodies require a minimum amount of energy on any given day just to keep us alive. It’s easy to overlook the basic functions of the body that keep us alive. Breathing, circulation, and digestion all require energy. The terms Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) are slightly different, but they are both used to define the amount of energy needed by our bodies to perform these functions. There are several equations available to calculate both the BMR and the RMR but to keep things simple take your ideal weight and multiple it by 10. A person with the ideal weight of 130 lbs would need 1,300 calories per day just to stay alive. We need to consume more to do anything else. That’s pretty much the reason low-calorie diets don’t work.

To be healthy the goal is to achieve the perfect balance between the energy consumed and the energy expended. That is often difficult because there are so many food choices that are not nutrient rich. To compensate we end up eating more.  It’s a hard cycle to break, but it is possible.

When choosing foods consider the calories per gram for these macronutrients:

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories
  • Protein: 4 calories
  • Fat: 9 calories
  • Alcohol: 7 calories

Out of curiosity I just compared a slice of whole wheat bread with a small apple. Both have approximately 70 calories. The bread had a percentage breakdown (carbohydrates/protein/fat) of 72/16/12. The apple was 95/2/3. They both contained vitamins and minerals. Both are healthy choices, but, I don’t know about you, I rarely eat one slice of plain whole wheat bread. Butter, peanut butter and jam all add extra calories. If only money would sneak into my bank account the way calories sneak into my diet.

Weight management is about budgeting. Calories in and calories out. If only it were that simple. There’s much more, but let’s start with that.


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