Do Calories Make you Crazy? Me Too

By Dr. Sandra Piedad Cardona




Calories and calorie counting make me crazy. I especially think about those when my clothes don't fit like they used to; I think it happens to you too.


I have a friend who is always joking and says, "calories are little bugs that at night enter your closet to sew the edges of your clothes so they don't fit you anymore."


But, seriously, do you know what they are? Where are they? Why is "how many calories to consume" so important? Is it the same as consuming calories from one type of food or another?


The definition of a calorie is very technical. (It is the amount of energy that 1 gram of water needs to increase its temperature by 1°C.) But in general terms, calories are energy.


Why is that related to what we eat?

Most of the food we ingest contains nutrients that our body transforms into calories. Those calories generate the energy our body needs to operate. Calories are for our body as gasoline to a car. A significant difference is that our body does more complex tasks, from breathing to running a marathon—going through all the growth and permanent cell renewal processes.

After eating, our body uses some of those calories to provide energy, which in some cases is used right away. Still, those unused ones are saved.

Like a battery that accumulates energy, our body saves that extra energy as fat. Yes, the fat we see in our abdominal walls, buttocks, legs, arms, and internal organs are that saved energy. Of course, that fat has other functions, but this one is significant. You will have a good reserve if you consume more calories than your body needs.


Each person's daily amount of calories varies according to whether they are male or female, age, and physical activity. Women accumulate more fat than men because we eat the same portion as men or eat the same amount during our entire adulthood. And additionally, we need more fat to metabolize feminine hormones.

Ok, back to track,


What foods provide calories?

All food groups provide us with calories, but only some provide the same amount of nutrients. Indeed, some food provides us with calories and no nutrients, called empty calories. So, we have to be selective when choosing what we eat.

Suppose we choose the same amount (by weight) of fat, carbohydrates, or proteins. In that case, we will be eating different amounts of calories because fats provide us with more calories than proteins and carbohydrates by weight.


Carbohydrates:

They are present in fruits, starchy vegetables, pulses, grains, and their products, such as flour, bread, pasta, and cookies, but also in sweet foods such as sugar, sugary drinks, jellies, ice cream, and similar products.

Each gram of carbohydrates we consume gives us four calories of energy.


As all carbohydrates provide us with the same energy, it is better to choose those that provide us with additional benefits, usually those that come from natural foods.

For example, whole fruits, pulses, and whole grains provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber beyond energy. Other foods such as soft drinks or sodas, juices, sugary drinks, cookies, candies, desserts, and ice cream are rich in calories but have few other nutrients. So, when you think about a good dessert, fruits are better.


Proteins:

They are present in vegetables such as pulses, seeds, grains, nuts, different kinds of meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, milk, and its derivates such as yogurt and cheese.

One gram of protein gives us four calories of energy.


When we choose what to eat, it is crucial to understand the source of the proteins. We can get proteins from animals and plants.

Animal-based protein options also provide us with fat, so you simultaneously consume calories from proteins and fat when you eat it. It doesn't happen when you eat proteins from plants.

You may select lean meats and low-fat dairy to avoid those extra calories.


Fats:

They are present in oils, margarine, and butter, which are almost 100% fat, but we also find them in foods such as dairy, meat, seafood, poultry, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, and some pulses, such as soybeans.

For every 1 gram of fat, we are consuming nine calories.


A substance that provides empty calories that is not food; is alcohol from alcoholic beverages.

Each gram of alcohol has an energy contribution of 7 calories, very close to the energy contribution of fats. It doesn't mean that it is wrong or good. However, it is essential to know that this energy can be used or stored by our bodies without providing additional nutrients.


In short

The calories are the energy our body needs to perform daily activities and come from the food we eat. All food we consume is formed by a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, nutrients responsible for their caloric value. Those nutrients are called macronutrients.

Besides energy, macronutrients provide our body with the essential elements to build and renew every part of our body; this is why we need to understand what we eat.



Dr. Sandra Piedad Cardona, MD

Co-founder at Atuvera




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