Calories in the foods we eat provide energy in the form of heat so that our bodies can function. This means that we need to eat a certain amount of calories just to sustain life. But if we take in too many calories, then we risk gaining weight.
To make matters even more complex, all calories are not the same. You can consume 150 calories by eating a candy bar, for instance, or by eating 30 cups of lettuce. Understanding exactly what a calorie is, and why we count them, can help you make better dietary decisions.
A calorie is a unit of measurement. Specifically, it is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
Though, when the word “calorie” is used in reference to food, people are usually actually talking about the amount of kilocalories a specific item has, which is what is listed on nutrition labels. One large kilocalorie (kcal) is the equivalent of 1,000 small calories.
The foods we eat supply our bodies with calories, providing the energy we need to live and stay healthy. Everything we do relies on the energy that comes in the form of calories, whether it is sitting on the couch for hours at a time or running a marathon.
Part of the confusion with calories comes in because calorie count alone does not whether a food is nutritious. It is more about the type of calorie, such as whether it supplies vitamins, minerals, and fiber or if it is void of nutrition and more of an “empty calorie.”
Calories and Weight Gain
Calories in food provide essential energy, but if you consume too many you will gain weight. These excess calories are stored as body fat. Your body needs some stored fat to stay healthy. But too much fat can cause health problems.
So how do you make sure that you don’t eat too many calories? It’s important that you understand your caloric needs. That is the number of calories your body needs to perform basic metabolic functions and daily physical activities. You can calculate your caloric needs using an online calculator.