What Is a Food Calorie


What is a calorie in food?

A food calorie is the measurement unit for energy. A calorie is not a nutrient, specifically; however, they are needed every day to support life, fueling physiological functions and muscular activity, metabolic reactions within your body, growth and development and more. A calorie is defined as the amount of energy necessary to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.

Where do calories come from?

Only three of the six essential nutrients: carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals and water provide energy in the form of calories. These are the macronutrients (those you need in large quantities daily): carbohydrate, protein and fat. Carbohydrate and protein provide four calories per gram while fat yields over double that amount, about nine calories per gram. While not a nutrient, alcohol provides energy in the form of calories, about seven calories per gram.

What is the average caloric requirement for an individual?

Most individuals require, on average, 1,500 to 2,500 calories every day. The amount varies greatly, particularly during different periods of life. Some of the factors that determine how many calories you need daily to maintain your weight include your age and gender, body weight, activity level and, to some degree, genetics plays a role. As you age, you generally lose lean body mass which lowers your basal metabolic rate (BMR). For every decade beyond age 30, you require about 10% fewer calories to maintain your weight. Men are typically larger and have more lean body mass (muscle) than women, thus they need to consume more calories every day for maintaining life.

What does the term ‘energy-dense’ mean?

The term ‘energy-dense’ is used to describe a food item that is high in calories for the portion of food/ serving size. It is dense or rich in calories. High-fat foods are often considered ‘energy-dense’ because fat packs nine calories in every gram, again, over twice as many as carbohydrates and fats.  Healthy foods may be energy-dense or high in calories. Examples of healthy, energy-dense foods include nuts and nut butters, vegetable oils, avocados and cheese.  These foods are high in calories but also nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, so they are also ‘nutrient-dense.’

What does the term ‘empty-calorie’ mean?

‘Empty-calorie’ is actually a contradiction in terms or a misnomer. This term is typically used to describe unhealthy, junk foods or foods that provide energy in the form of calories, but little else (few essential nutrients). Empty-calorie foods may be filling, but they are rarely nutritious and consuming them regularly may encourage weight gain. Examples of empty-calorie foods include candy, cookies, soda and fruit-flavored drinks, pastries, potato chips and other treats, often processed and packaged.

How do I find out how many calories are in the foods I eat?

Packaged foods, by law, must display a Nutrition Facts Panel. Calories (per serving) must be clearly visible on this label and is found toward the top of the label, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition to reading the Nutrition Facts Panel, the internet is an excellent resource for finding the calorie content of common foods. In general, choosing whole, unprocessed foods, such as low- or non-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein foods is the best way to keep your caloric intake at an appropriate level.


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