What is a calorie?

One of the most common, if not the most pressing, concerns among folks embarking on a weight-loss journey is how to handle calorie intake. Just what is a calorie? The answer to this question can point us in the right direction.

Whether we should be counting calories or measuring our portions to stay within our diet or regimen’s specified limits is a good question when trying to lose weight. There are many tools out there, everything from meal plan—and meal prep—strategies to calorie tracker apps.

Before you go down that road, let’s get to know calories a little better first.

What are calories?

The short answer is that calories are units of energy related to heat. Calories indicate the amount of heat you need to raise the temperature of a quantity of water by one degree. The exact measure of said quantity has varied from one gram to one kilogram over time. 

Moreover, the traditional physics of the calorie is vital to the way we understand nutrition. The concept has gone from small calories to large calories, gram calories to kilocalories.

All metric-system-induced confusion aside, what food science defines as a calorie comes down to nutritional energy, meaning how much of it your body needs to function efficiently and stay healthy.

High-calorie Foods and Low-calorie Foods

If we pay attention to calories, there are mainly two kinds of foods: High-calorie and low-calorie ones.

High-calorie Foods

High-calorie foods help with two fitness goals: gaining weight and bulking up. If you are underweight and wish to get to a healthier weight, high-calorie foods can get you there. It might even be easier than you think, considering beverages also represent calories, especially sugary ones.

Essentially, proteins, carbs, and fats make up calorie-rich foods. Roasted or broiled meats, dairy, and oily fishes provide protein. Carbohydrates are trickier than they seem since not all are digestible, but the best bet is to go for whole grains, like those you find in whole wheat bread, oatmeal, or brown rice. Potatoes not in the form of French fries are good, too.

Like carbs, fats also have their nuances. Butter, mayonnaise, and cheese made of dairy are obvious choices, though not the healthiest. You can trust healthy fat champions, like avocado, salmon, and olives, for a dose of fats that will work in your favor. Nuts are loaded with fats, and their butter versions are a great non-dairy alternative!

Low-calorie Foods

Consuming low-calorie foods without engaging in stringent low-calorie diets is preferable given that crash diets do not meet the sufficient nutrient intake for adults. Consider balancing calorie restrictions with nutritionally complete meal replacements.

Among the most filling choices for low-calorie foods are cottage cheese, chia seeds, berries, Greek yogurt, and oats. These options are already quite popular in the healthy lifestyle sphere.

What are empty calories?

Basically, empty calories include all the fun stuff. Foods and beverages, whose primary or only component is sugar, fats, oils, or alcohol, are empty calories. They supply energy but not nutrition. In other words, they’re devoid of minerals, vitamins, fiber, protein, and essential fatty acids.

That’s not to say that you should ban empty calories from your diet forever. (Cheat days!) Occasionally indulging in them is guilt-free because a small amount is not harmful, but they should not be the only thing you eat. Consume empty calories seldomly to remain balanced in your diet.

If your goal is to gain weight, a diet high in added sugar will surely help, but it will also prevent your muscles from synthesizing protein. To keep energy levels high, mood positive, sleep restful, and skin clear, it’s best to opt for nutrient-rich foods. Nutritional meals boost your overall health.

As a general rule of thumb, stay away from heavily processed and high-sugar foods.

Counting Calories and Cutting Calories for Weight Loss

Learn how to count calores and cutting calores are really important loosing-wight methods.

Counting Calories

Think of counting calories as a method to stick to your maintenance calories number. Or, if you’re trying to lose weight, having a baseline number from which you can subtract, say 500 calories, can be very helpful. You come to this number by establishing daily caloric needs for your organism, based on your body’s characteristics and how active you regularly are, then measuring that against your fitness goal.

If you have reached your ideal body weight, you merely need to ensure you keep to said number. Weight gain requires eating more calories than you burn, while weight loss requires burning more calories than you take in (or eating fewer calories than you burn). The fewer calories you consume, the fewer carbs converted into fat.

Moreover, the idea behind counting calories is to help you understand your eating habits in order to optimize your diet. Look at it as tracking, rather than counting.

Cutting Calories

Cutting calories creates a caloric deficit in your body that promotes fat burning. Keep in mind that depriving your body of necessary calories (in other words, abusing calorie restriction) can cause malnutrition and lower the levels of essential nutrients in your body. So, reduce your calorie intake carefully and only as needed.

A smart weight-loss program includes a workout plan. You need fuel for your exercise routines, and creating a caloric deficit will debilitate you. However, when treating obesity, calorie restriction can improve long-term health and is recommended for prediabetic and diabetic individuals.

What is a calorie: Main Takeaways

To sum it up, there are four steps to approaching calories. Begin by understanding how calories work, then find a baseline to work around. Next, establish your goal: to slim down, maintain your weight, or get fit. Then, build a fitness plan accordingly. For more information, read our article, How many calories should I eat a day?

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