July 28 2016

Let’s Talk About Calories


Calories — the dreaded term for all dieters, weight loss wishers, and exercise fanatics. But what actually are calories?

The word ‘calorie’ is a term given to quantify the energy value of foods – that is, more calories theoretically produce more energy. And, according to the National Health Service in the UK, the average adult female requires around 2,000 calories per day in order to acquire enough energy for physical activity and mental clarity. This standard, as we all know, changes depending on each individual; primarily, the more a person moves or exercise each day, the more calories through food they require, and additionally, the higher percentage of muscle a person has, the more calories they once again require  because a greater percentage of bodily muscle burns more calories while sedentary.

This makes sense, of course, as when we consume too little food, we feel drained and dizzy, as we haven’t supplied our brain and blood flow with enough energy to function properly within our daily routine.

Now, here comes the reverse fear: that too many calories can oversaturate our body with energy, forcing this energy to be transformed and stored as sugars and fats within, and upon, our body.

This is only partly true. You see, it’s not the over-consumption of calories that will increase your body fat percentage – it’s the kinds of calories you consume.

When you think about things clearly, it all makes sense: if you consume 100 calories of carrots, and 100 calories of chocolate, are all calories equal? The answer is no. The effect that 100 calories of chocolate will have on your body and energy levels is drastically different to the effect that an equal amount of carrot will. Chocolate will provide less natural nutrients for your body, and thus, less of the natural energy we biologically crave. Furthermore, the sugar within the chocolate will actually cause your energy to spike and then crash lower than before. Thus, whilst calories are required for energy and fuel, not every calorie is equal, and not all energy from calories transform and provide for your body in the same manner.

Hence, as I said earlier, it is not the overconsumption of calories that will jeopardize your weight or bodily functions, but rather, the source of those calories.

This brings me onto my next, and less commonly known, point– caloric density.

Instead of focusing on calories for a second, let’s focus on volume. If I have 100 grams of carrots and 100 grams of chocolate – exactly the same amount – what’s the difference?
100 grams of raw carrots = 41 calories
100 grams of milk chocolate = 535 calories

In terms of volume, these two foods align perfectly – however, the amount of calories within this quantity is drastically different. To give you a clearer indication, I’ve listed below a few more foods and their associative calories.

100 grams of raw mushrooms = 13 calories
100 grams of spinach leaves = 24 calories
100 grams of strawberries = 33 calories
100 grams of apples = 52 calories
100 grams of boiled potatoes = 103 calories
100 grams of vanilla ice cream = 207 calories
100 grams of white rice = 130 calories
100 grams of raw sugar = 387 calories

As you can see, the caloric density of a food is not defined by the quantity in which it is found.

It has been said before that people during their day-to-day routines do not habitually consume the same amount of calories each day, but, rather, the same volume of food. If we take this to be true, a person trying to lose weight, in theory, need only swap their 100 grams of white rice at dinner with 100 grams of spinach leaves – by doing this, a person can consume an equal amount of food that is naturally calorically less dense – thus allowing them to lower their overall calorie consumption, if necessary, without feeling deprived by smaller portion sizes or less food in general.

Now, the reason I tell you all of this is not so that you can go ahead and start monitoring each and every calorie you consume – this is not only unhealthy but also nearly impossible when it comes to eating out or at friends’ houses. I tell you this so that you can make more informed choices. Through understanding that not all foods contain the same amount of calories in volume, and that not all calories are created equal, we can eradicate this modern fear of numbers and energy exertion and kilojoules, instead replacing it with a much more fundamental understanding of the reality: what you put in, is what you get out.

You literally are what you eat, and no, you’re not a number.

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