What's in this article?
What are calories?
Most people only associate calories with food and drink, but anything that contains energy has calories. For instance, one ton of coal contains the equivalent of 7,004,684,512 calories.
The terms large calorie and small calorie can be confusing, and to add further confusion, are often mistakenly used interchangeably. This article focuses on calories associated with foods, drinks and human energy expenditure (our burning up of energy).
According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, a Calorie is “a unit of heat content or energy. The amount of heat necessary to raise 1 g of water from 14.5-15.5°C (small calorie). Calorie is being replaced by joule, the SI unit equal to 0.239 calorie.”
The calories included in food labels are, in fact, kilocalories – units of 1,000 small calories. Therefore, a 250-calorie chocolate bar is actually 250,000 calories.
Calories and energy balance
Our bodies need energy to keep us alive and our organs functioning normally. When we eat and drink, we put energy into our bodies.
Our bodies use up that energy through everyday movement, which includes everything from breathing to running.
To maintain a stable weight, the energy we put into our bodies must be the same as the energy we use by normal bodily functions and physical activity.
An important part of a healthy diet is balancing the energy you put into your bodies with the energy you use.
For example, the more physical activity we do the more energy we use.
If you consume too much energy on one day, don’t worry; just try to take in less energy on the following days.
Are Calories Bad for You?
Calories aren’t bad for you. Your body needs calories for energy. But eating too many calories and not burning enough of them off through activity an lead to weight gain.
Most foods and drinks contain calories. Some foods, such as lettuce, contain few calories (1 cup of shredded lettuce has less than 10 calories). Other foods, like peanuts, contain a lot of calories (½ cup of peanuts has 427 calories).
You can find out how many calories are in a food by looking at the nutrition facts label. The label also will describe the components of the food how many grams of carbohydrate, protein, and fat it contains.
Here’s how many calories are in 1 gram of each:
- carbohydrate — 4 calories
- protein — 4 calories
- fat — 9 calories
That means if you know how many grams of each one are in a food, you can calculate the total calories. You would multiply the number of grams by the number of calories in a gram of that food component. For example, if a serving of potato chips (about 20 chips) has 10 grams of fat, 90 calories are from fat. That’s 10 grams x 9 calories per gram.
Some people watch their calories if they are trying to lose weight. Most kids don’t need to do this, but all kids can benefit from eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes the right number of calories not too many, not too few.
How to Reduce Calorie Intake Without Starving Yourself
Calories are simply a measure of energy.
It is known that in order to gain weight, more calories need to be entering your body than leaving it.
Conversely, if more calories leave your body than enter it, then you lose weight.
That being said, just cutting calories without regards to the foods you eat is usually not a sustainable way to lose weight.
Although it works for some people, the majority of people end up hungry and eventually give up on their diet.
For this reason, it is highly recommended to make a few other permanent changes to help you maintain a calorie deficit in the long term, without feeling starved.
Calories or Joules?
In many regions, including the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, it has become standard practice to include energy data in food labels in joules (kilojoules) instead of kilocalories (calories). In the United States, most food labeling is done in calories.
1 joule = 0.239005736 of a calorie, or 1 calorie = 4.18 joules.
This can be confusing and irritating if you live in a country where the food labeling is done in joules, but all exercise programs, diet regimes and health topics regarding energy consumption talk in calories. Fortunately, most food labels in the European Union also add calorie-equivalent information.
How Many Calories Do Kids Need?
Kids come in all sizes and each person’s body burns energy (calories) at different rates, so there isn’t one perfect number of calories that a kid should eat. But there is a recommended range for most school-age kids: 1,600 to 2,200 per day.
When they reach puberty, girls need more calories than before but they tend to need fewer calories than boys. As boys enter puberty, they may need as many as 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day, especially if they are very active. But whether they are girls or boys, kids who are active and move around a lot will need more calories than kids who don’t.
Most kids don’t have to worry about not getting enough calories because the body and feelings of hunger help regulate how many calories a person eats. But kids with certain medical problems may need to make sure they eat enough calories. Kids with cystic fibrosis, for instance, have to eat high-calorie foods because their bodies have trouble absorbing the nutrients and energy from food.
Kids who are overweight might have to make sure they don’t eat too many calories. (Only your doctor can say if you are overweight, so check with him or her if you’re concerned. And never go on a diet without talking to your doctor!)
If you eat more calories than your body needs, the leftover calories are converted to fat. Too much fat can lead to health problems. Often, kids who are overweight can start by avoiding high-calorie foods, such as sugary sodas, candy, and fast food, and by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Exercising and playing are really important, too, because activity burns calories.