What are Calories? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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Calories. True, we all wish to put a full stop somewhere on the number of calories we consume. Though ectomorphs are blessed with the freedom to have ‘n’ number of calories, others have a hard time resisting delicious foods, the consequence of which is a big, bulging tummy. The term ‘calorie’ is used so commonly, but have ever really wondered what this term actually means?

What do you mean by calories?

Definition of Calorie

Let’s take you back to your class V science lessons. Simply put, a calorie is a unit of energy. Though it’s generally associated with food only, but in actual, calories apply to just about anything containing energy. A gallon of gasoline (4 litres), for example, contains about 31,000,000 calories. These are the number of calories your car needs to run.

Getting a little more scientific, a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. 1 calorie (kcal) = 4,184 joules or 4.18 kJ (joules is the unit of measurement of energy).

Are calories important for us?

This isn’t even a question to ask. As I said above, a calorie is a unit of energy, which implies that calories provide your body with the strength and stamina to do all the work. Without calories, we just won’t be able to survive. Our cells would die, our heart and lungs would stop working and we would just starve to death.

What are the different types of calories?

You must have noticed two different abbreviations of calories on food labels: cal and kcal (Cal)

  1. A small calorie (cal): 1cal is the amount of heat or energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
  2. A large calorie (Cal or kcal): 1Cal or 1kcal is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kg of water by one degree Celsius.

These two terms are often used interchangeably. 1kcal = 1,000 cal or 1 large calorie = 1000 small calories. The calories mentioned on food labels are usually in kcal. An innocent looking 300 kcal chocolate bar is in actual equivalent to 300,000 small calories, but don’t worry, we count kcal and not cal.

Calories in Fat, Carbohydrate & Protein

And you thought only fat had calories? Well, protein and carbohydrate also supply you with calories, though much lesser than what fat loads you with. Here’s how many calories each gram of fat, carbohydrate and protein give you:

MacronutrientCaloriesEnergy (Kilojoules)
Fat937.7
Carbohydrate416.7
Protein416.7

As you can notice, each gram of fat provides you with more than double the calories a gram of carbohydrate or protein provides you with. It’s very simple to calculate the calories you’ve consumed if you have the specifics about the quantity of the macronutrients you’ve eaten. Let’s take an example and find out the calories in a 375 ml bottle of Coca-Cola.

Looking at the nutrition information printed on the label of Coke, here’s the information we get:Coca-Cola 375 ml nutritionchart

Protein: 0 gm
Fat: 0 gm
Carbohydrates: 40 gm

Referring to the above values, calculating the number of calories is very easy:
0 x 4 + 0 x 9 + 40 x 4

It comes out to be 160 calories, almost the same as the number printed on the chart. Though almost all the food items have their nutritional information mentioned on the food label, this knowledge is just to give you some clarity on how that number of calories per serving is derived.

At times, you may find that figure you arrive at using this 9-4-4 method does not match the number mentioned on the food label. The reason for this variance, most likely, is the insoluble fibers included under carbohydrates, which the manufacturer may have left out while computing the number of calories for that particular food item. Since insoluble fiber passes through our bodies without being converted to a form that provides energy, hence it’s assumed not to pass on any calories and is not accounted for by the manufacturer. The problem, however, is that soluble and insoluble fibers are not separately mentioned on the food labels, hence that may cause a slight deviation in the number of calories you derive.

Are all calories good? No, empty calories are not.

Foods with empty calories - Coke, Burger, Fries

Empty calories, as the name suggests, are empty or contain very little nutritional value. These discretionary calories have virtually no amino acids, fibers, vitamins, minerals or antioxidants. They are the main reason you put on weight on your belly. Weight gainer and mass gainer supplements are also full of empty calories and thus help you gain weight easily. We consume empty calories mainly from two sources:

  1. Solid fats: Pizza, bacons, sausages, cheese etc., all these are solid fats, i.e., they remain solid at room temperature. Solid fats are usually found in industrially processed foods, but are also added while preparing certain foods.
  2. Added sugars: “This beverage contains added sugars.” Sweeteners like sucrose and high-fructose syrups are often added to foods and beverages during industrial processing. Coke, Pepsi and all such beverages contain added sugars.

If you’re aiming to lose fat, then it’s highly important to make sure that your do not consume empty calories.

How many calories does a person need?

Depends. On a lot of factors. Sex, weight, height, body shape, level of physical activity, overall general health, bodybuilding goals, How Many Calories Should One Eat Everyday?these all determine the number of calories a person needs.

For example: A 5 feet 10 inches tall male bodybuilder will need much more calories than a 6 feet 2 inches tall office goer.

Want to compute the number of calories you need per day? Read how to compute your calorie requirement.

How are calories important in weight loss?

Calories : When will a person lose weight?

The simple condition for weight loss: when the number of calories you consume are less than the number of calories you burn.

Calories in various food items

FoodCalories
1 tsp sugar30
1 tsp butter50
1 tsp jam30
1 tsp mayonnaise100
1 almond6
1 banana138
1 slice 12” cheese pizza140
100 gm chicken breast172
100 gm chicken leg214
Beer – Regular, 12 ounce can145
Alcohol –  1peg, small (neat)75
Boiled Egg80
Egg Omelet120
Chapati60
Parantha150
1 cup cooked rice120
1 cup coffee with milk & sugar45
1 cup tea with milk & sugar45
1 biscuit30
1 pc Indian sweets/mithai150
28 gm bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk148
330ml can of Coca-Cola139

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1 Response

  1. KKAD says:

    Very informative and great articles

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