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What are calories? Understanding the currency of nutrition.

The "calorie".

We've all heard the word.

We all know it's something we need to burn, or count, or shed, and so on. It's something we're conditioned to despise, resent, eliminate.

But what exactly is a calorie, and why is it critically important to our wellbeing?

In this blog post, we will explore the science behind calories and shed light on their role as the energy currency of nutrition.

What is a Calorie?

Simply, a calorie is a unit of energy.

A calorie is a unit of energy commonly used to quantify the amount of energy stored in food and expended by the body.

The Energy Content of Food

Food is made up of various macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, each contributing a specific number of calories per gram:

⭕️ 1 gram of carbohydrates contains approximately 4 calories.

⭕️ 1 gram of protein contains approximately 4 calories.

⭕️ 1 gram of fat contains approximately 9 calories.

These values represent the potential energy stored within these macronutrients. When we consume food, our bodies break down these macronutrients through digestion, extracting the energy stored within them for various physiological processes.

Calories and Energy Balance

Energy balance is a fundamental concept in nutrition. It refers to the relationship between the calories consumed through food and the calories expended by the body.

👉🏼 If calorie intake equals calorie expenditure, the individual is said to be in energy balance.

👉🏼 When calorie intake exceeds expenditure, it leads to weight gain

👉🏼 While calorie deficit results in weight loss.

Metabolism and Calories

Our body's metabolism is responsible for converting the food we eat into energy. The process involves breaking down macronutrients into their respective components through digestion and then utilising those components for energy production.

Carbohydrates are converted into glucose, which is either used immediately for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. When glycogen stores are full, excess glucose is converted into fat and stored in adipose tissue.

Proteins are broken down into amino acids, which are utilised for various functions in the body, such as building and repairing tissues and supporting the immune system. In certain situations, proteins can also be used as an energy source.

Fats are broken down into fatty acids, which are primarily used for energy production. They also play essential roles in hormone production, insulation, and protecting vital organs.

Energy Expenditure

The body expends energy through various processes, including basal metabolic rate (BMR), physical activity, and the thermic effect of food. BMR represents the energy required to sustain basic bodily functions at rest, such as breathing, circulation, and cell production. Physical activity refers to the energy expended during any form of movement, exercise, or daily activities. The thermic effect of food represents the energy required for digestion, absorption, and storage of nutrients.

It's important to note that individuals have different energy requirements based on factors such as age, gender, body composition, and activity level. Therefore, the calorie needs of each person may vary.

In short, Understanding the science behind calories provides valuable insights into the energy balance and metabolism of our bodies. Calories serve as the unit of measurement for the energy content in food and the energy expended by our bodies. By maintaining a balanced approach to calorie intake and expenditure, we can strive for a healthy lifestyle and achieve our desired weight goals. Remember, while calories are important, the quality of the food we consume also plays a crucial role in supporting overall health and well-being.

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