What are calories?

Calories, we count them, we fret over them and sometimes we think that we hate them…but what are calories?

A calorie is a measure of energy.  Technically, a calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.  The question is, what does that mean for me as I dive into that double cheese pizza, or large mocha with whipped cream?

We all require energy to function.  However, the amount of energy (or calories) needed by an individual, can vary greatly.  Caloric needs depend upon variables such as age, sex, activity level, and – most importantly – resting metabolic rate (RMR).  Your RMR refers to the number of calories your body burns, at rest, every 24 hours.  This does not include the calories you burn with your daily activities.  The easy way to estimate your RMR is to multiply your weight by 10.  So, a 180lb. person would need at least 1800 calories per day to maintain their weight, possibly more.  However, a much more accurate way to determine your RMR would be through some types of body composition analysis, which are available through some medical offices (including ours) and some gyms.

If you eat fewer calories than your RMR, you may initially lose weight.  However, sometimes the body reacts to this as a perceived “danger”, and responds by ramping down your metabolic rate.  This is especially true if your calories are not coming from the right sources.  All calories are not created equal!  For example, a 400 calorie breakfast comprised of a donut and large coffee will be very rapidly digested, and will raise your blood sugar quickly.  This is followed by a surge of insulin and results in a blood sugar “crash”.  This makes you hungry for more sugar, and sets off a vicious cycle of blood sugar peaks and crashes.  Also, that donut and coffee contain virtually no high quality protein, which is what your body needs most first thing in the morning.  This is a recipe for declining muscle mass, which leads to declining RMR, which leads to fat gain.

Let’s go back to breakfast.  This time, you will be having “quality calories” two large eggs on a bed of cooked spinach and a serving of fresh berries.  Go ahead and have your coffee, but one mug not an entire pot! The eggs provide a full serving of high quality protein, which helps to conserve your muscle.  The berries and spinach also provide fiber, which, along with the protein from the eggs, acts as a “brake” on the rate at which you will absorb the carbohydrates (sugar) from the spinach and berries, which prevents a big rise in blood sugar.  You will be unlikely to experience the mid-morning “slump” that is almost guaranteed with the donut breakfast.

The best policy is to avoid the “empty calories” in processed and sweetened foods, and load up on whole foods that are “nutrient dense” and which tend to be much lower in calories while providing lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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