Counting Calories: What does it mean?
February 23, 2011
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If you’ve ever attempted to shed a few pounds or even just maintain your current weight, you are aware of the dreaded act of counting calories. And sure, we are all equipped with the basic adding skills to figure out our total caloric consumption for a given day, but how many of us actually understand what we are keeping track of?
What is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. In terms of nutrition, calories measure the amount of energy given off when food or drink is broken down in your body. Interestingly, the calories listed on food packages are actually in kilocalories, which means there are 1,000 calories in every food Calorie.
How are Calories measured?
In order to accurately calculate the number of calories in food, the United States Department of Agriculture (and other nutrition and science-based agencies) use a calorimeter. Inside the mechanism, the food or drink is burnt, and the amount of heat given off is measured. (Remember, heat = energy) Once the heat is converted into calories, chemists must also multiply the number to account for energy burned during digestion.
What happens to calories that aren’t used for energy?
When we take in more calories than our body needs to function, the extra calories are stored as fat. Our metabolism uses enzymes to break down what we have consumed in order to send the molecules from food to our cells. When the cells do not require immediate energy, these molecules are put in “storage” for later use.
Can I estimate calories without a calorimeter?
By breaking down the food you are eating, you can get a rough estimate of the number of calories you are consuming. For example, a gram of protein or a gram of carbohydrates both contain 4 calories, while a gram of fat contains 9.
How can I burn more calories?
Living an active lifestyle is the best way to expend the number of calories typical Americans consume on a daily basis. In addition, building muscle can help speed up your body’s metabolism and burn more calories. Muscle tissue contains cells that are constantly active, and as a result, burn more energy than fat cells, which are not active.