Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Food Fact: What is a Calorie?

You’re a world class athlete so how many calories do you eat a day? Have you heard how many calories Michael Phelps eats per day? Isn’t it all about calories calories calories? Yeah yeah we’ve all heard the jibber jabber about calories but who really knows what a calorie is? Do you know what a calorie is? For a long time I had no idea. You’d think that with how often the word calorie is used in our society that everyone would know the exact origin and definition, but many people simply don’t. Herein lies the beauty of the Friday Food Fact. I’m here to help y’all out (that is if you don’t already know the answer).

So here’s the skinny:

In the simplest view a calorie is a unit of energy and was first defined by professor Nicholas Clement in 1824. The term began to enter French and English dictionaries around the time of 1840s. There are two basic definitions of calories. First is the Kilogram calorie that is the amount of energy it takes to raise the water temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Second there is the gram calorie that is the amount of energy it takes to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius. In terms of food and nutrition, the Kilogram calorie is used and is simply referred to as Calorie. Gram calories were commonly used in chemistry and physics.

How does this relate to us? Whenever we eat something we are receiving some type of calorie from it. The calories can either be packed with nutrients such as if we eat a sweet potato, or they could be empty calories such as drinking a soda. Empty calories provide us with no other nutritional benefit and should be limited in our diets. As our body digests food we convert the substance we ate into usable energy. As I’m sure you can already assume, the more we use our muscles and exercise, the more calories we burn. The US Department of Health and Human Services states that in order to lose a pound of weight we need to burn or cut back 3,500 calories. Conversely eat 3,500 calories extra and you gain a pound.

We’ve all heard about counting calories. Personally I’ve always found this to be both a pain in the butt as well as pretty impractical. It’s very difficult to constantly monitor and keep track of exactly how much we eat. I believe that when you eat healthy you don’t have to worry quite as much about the quantity of calories you’re consuming. When it comes to the amount, I always go by what my body tells me to do. We all know what it feels like to be full. I simply don’t let myself get to that point. I eat until I feel good and am about 80% full and then stop. You can always come back later and have a little more if you need it. Don’t overeat, don’t be filled to the brim. Try not to get to the point when you feel like you’re going to explode. That's just gross!

If you want to count calories and that works for you I totally encourage you to do so. In reality the best way to do things is to find eating habits that are comfortable to you and help you achieve your goals. Remember, you can live a better life through better nutrition.


Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago (?) you posted about sweet potatoes and suggested rosemary as a good herb to flavor them with. I've tried it a few times since then, and it's spectacular!! I'm going to play with quinoa next. Thanks for posting all the foodie prep suggestions and background in an easy to follow format for "new users."

Bison has always been a favorite of mine. And that lasagna you made for your teammates looked spectacular! They're lucky to have you! Best of luck in the post-season this year!

Garrett said...

Glad you liked the rosemary with sweet potatoes! Thanks for checking out the blog and for following me:)

TheRebecca said...


I just came across your blog and love it! I am a local blogger in Austin too, who writes about practical and healthy entertaining--often about food ( Your posts are informative and easy to read!

I'll keep visiting!

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