Calories 101

Calories. This single word can make some people cringe when they hear it. This goes especially for those who are trying to lose weight. Whether it be taking in just the right amount or a certain amount above or below the individuals required intake, Calories are a baseline when it comes to nutrition. There are different types of definitions regarding them that can confuse people.

The original calorie (note the lower-case “c”), was roughly the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. For Nutrition, this is a small amount of energy. It’s so small it’s nearly useless. When people talked energy and nutrition, they started using the Calorie (note the upper-case “C”), which was meant to refer to the amount of energy required to raise 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. This is known as a Large Calorie, a Calorie, or a kilocalorie (note the lower case “c” in “kilocalorie) or Kcal.

So 1 Calorie = 1 Kcal = 1,000 calories.

In simple terms, Calories are a unit of measurement. The Calories you see on food labels are Kcals. This is the amount of energy the food will give you. Granted all the nutrients in the food combine to give you energy, your metabolism burns off at a Caloric value. And while every food label just reads “Calories,” the major conflict is the difference between empty, bad, and good calories.

Empty Calories are foods that contain Calories but hold no productive nutritional value. With the exception of water, all foods contain calories. Take soda for instance. While many brands have cut back on Calories, the originals contained a fair amount. Considering there is no real nutritional value in soda, the Calories were labeled as empty. Over time, soda became the reason for weight gain. This wasn’t solely because of the Caloric value but the high sugar content. The same goes for whole foods and junk food.

Bad Calories are in “junk foods.” Take a bag of chips or cup-cakes. Good right? Well with that being said, they are high in bad Calories. A majority of the flavor is due to a high fat content, this is why it’s considered bad Calories. That and the Calories in the food don’t really benefit you while dieting. Over time, the type of carbohydrates in this food will cause you to eat more which we’ll discuss more in “Carbohydrates 101.”

Good calories are in foods that are sometimes looked down upon by some people. They are found in whole foods with little to no bad preservatives added. The food groups range from grains, meats, fruits, vegetables, and some dairy products. These are relatively low in Calories and have a good content of nutrients that are good for you.

Grains include breads, rice, and pasta. Whole grain would be the healthiest way to go to avoid excess processing. The grainy foods are moderate in good Calories mainly because of the carbohydrate content which we’ll cover later in “Carbohydrates 101.”

Meats vary in Caloric value depending on the animal and how lean it is. If you compare the same amount of fish to a burger, the fish is much leaner and lower in Calories. While the fat content in some meats are higher than others, they’re good for Caloric value and is rather good, too. This is one reason why some magazines preach to people dieting not to eat certain types of meat. I personally find it fine as long as these meats are prepared to make them as lean as possible. Keep in mind your body needs a certain amount of fat to function, too.

Fruits are universally good for you. Naturally low in Calories, they’re a very good snack if you’re dieting to lose weight. Not to mention the fructose (natural sugar) in the fruit will aid the Caloric value of energy given off. And because of the natural low Caloric content, it’s easy to fill up on fruits faster without having to worry about counting.

Vegetables are in the same boat as fruits. Naturally low in Calories, vegetables are a great addition any meal. Even though many turn the other cheek to some (if not a majority), they’re the kind of food that you can binge on and not worry about counting. Some preparations to make the vegetables more flavor add bad fats. A good rule for this is keep it simple, keep it clean. By this I mean ease off on the butter, oils, and cheeses. Stick to lighter flavor additives such as spices and some sauces.

Dairy is a grey area. Great sources of protein, calcium, and other vitamins, dairy products have a reputation for being good for you. Between eggs and various types of milk and cheese, the way the food was prepared before hitting the shelves changes the content.

Milk has different types of varieties to chose from. Depending on how it was produced, processing is done to add or remove certain aspects. One thing that remains the same for all is everything is pasteurized. This is the heating of milk to remove any harmful bacteria, molds, or yeasts.

Natural whole milk is basically straight from the cow. There is nothing added or taken out. This type has the most fat content of others. This is a popular reason why some people opt for it’s lower fat siblings.

Natural standardized milk is a type of whole milk. The only difference from natural whole milk is a minimum content of 3.5%

Semi-skimmed milk is the next step down for fat content. With a minimum fat content of around 1.7%, it’s a popular second choice for Caloric reasons with a decent taste of whole milk.

Skimmed-milk fat content hovers from0-1.5%. Nearly all the fat is removed but calcium and vitamins are added to replace those lost from the low fat content. This is not preferred for younger children who need to expend energy due to the low Caloric value. The taste is also more watery due to the low fat content.

Milks Caloric value decline with the fat content. This means that whole milk has the most Calories (~146/cup) to skimmed milk (~86/cup) with the lowest. Like I said before, if you have a child in it’s infancy, the best bet is to give it whole milk to aid energy. Yes the fat content is higher, but with the amount of running around and playing the child does, it should be able to burn a majority of it off.

Cheese is high in Calories because of it’s high fat content. Cheeses naturally lower in Calories include part-skim mozzarella, string cheeses, farmers cheese, and goat cheese. The dozens other types of cheeses have a decently high fat content. This is why most people use it to add flavor to their meals. I don’t recommend making this a daily consumption unless you know you can burn it off.

Eggs are universally good for you. Low in Calories and fat with a high protein and other vitamins content, they can greatly benefit you. They’re not just a breakfast food either. This makes it convenient for anytime of the day.

Calories are in every food you eat. Knowing to eat the foods that will benefit you opposed to the “feel good” foods will make a difference in how you feel and look. So next time you venture to the supermarket, try to draw yourself away from processed snack foods and head to the poultry and whole foods section. You’ll be surprised what you actually like.

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