Food is energy for the body. Digestive enzymes in the mouth, stomach and intestines break up complex food molecules into simpler structures, such as sugars and amino acids that travel through the bloodstream to all our tissues. Our cells use the energy stored in the chemical bonds of these simpler molecules to carry on business as usual. We calculate the available energy in all foods with a unit known as the food calorie, or kilo-calorie—the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Fats provide approximately nine calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and proteins deliver just four. Fiber offers a piddling two calories because enzymes in the human digestive tract have great difficulty chopping it up into smaller molecules.
“As far as weight gain is concerned, a calorie is a calorie,” says Lisa R. Young
Alcohol on the other hand weighs in at seven calories per gram and can be considered a lot for the body when consumed excessively. Now the topic boils down to the reason for counting calories.
How necessary it is for you to count calories? Why do you think you need to count your calorie intake?
What are the foods I need to consume to balance my calorie intake?
Do I necessarily have to restrict myself from certain foods or there are other ways around it?
Is my body size affected by my calorie intake?
We do not often get to sit ourselves down to ask the right questions. Most of us just decide on it because we have that one friend that is always nagging about how many calories is in a particular food, or we hear that watching your calories will make you lose weight and many more made up stories that are not elaborate enough or backed up with facts. But there are a myriad of reasons to base your food choices on criteria other than calorie content. For example, if the food you eat contains fiber, it will keep you feeling full longer, which can prevent you from reaching for “extra” calories in order to fill yourself up.
If you’re counting calories to lose weight, but eating higher-fat foods like bacon and full-fat cheese, you could potentially consume over half your day’s calorie allotment by the end of breakfast. Choosing carbs and protein for your morning meal, on the other hand, like an egg white omelet stuffed with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and a small amount of low-fat cheese, will leave you with calories to spare for meals and snacks beyond breakfast.
To accurately calculate the total calories that someone gets out of a given food, you would have to take into account a dizzying array of factors, including whether that food has evolved to survive digestion; how boiling, baking, microwaving or flambeing a food changes its structure and chemistry; how much energy the body expends to break down different kinds of food; and the extent to which the billions of bacteria in the gut aid human digestion and, conversely, steal some calories for themselves. Which is a whole lot of work, time consuming and nerve wrecking, and also makes it hard to calculate calories outside the laboratories.
You may want to pursue other methods of monitoring calorie intake by:
- Thinking of your workout. It has been scientifically proven to say that when we exercise, we burn calories, but we rarely ever count the calories we burn during the exercise. Instead we count heartbeat, miles and minutes.
- Instead of counting calories, it is advisable to eat smaller portions. Just like I stated in a blog post tagged “countdown to the festive season” (please go check it out). It is easy to forget that bigger portions of food has more calories. So eat less.
- Choose food that uses more calories. In the digestive system, some foods require more energy than the others to digest and metabolize (high-fiber, protein foods). For example, to eat a slice of bread made from whole grains vs. one made from refined flour. Refined flour digests easily, leaving you with the full 4 calories per gram, while whole grains use up part of their 4 calories per gram during the digestion process.
- Consume the right kind of food. When it comes strictly to weight loss, a calorie is a calorie. However, when it comes to your health, it’s best not to blow your calorie budget on foods that lack nutrients. Nutrient-dense choices like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, while those lacking in nutrients, like candy, soft drinks and white bread can contribute to a whole host of health problems. The benefit of choosing fruits, vegetables, and other lower-fat foods is that you get more bang for your buck and still be on a health train to long life.
It is easy to eat right, eat less and be healthy. Just select the right nutrients for your body, consider the options stated and do as advised. Health is wealth.
By Blessing Nwachukwu | [email protected]