What are calories?

Calories provide energy and in short, can only be described as essential for survival. A calorie is defined as a unit of energy. In the nutrition world, it is the potential energy in the foods that you consume and that the body uses to perform various actions. 

Calories are usually linked only to weight gain and obesity, but they are essential for health and survival. They only pose a health risk when you consume more than the recommended amount.

The human body needs them to survive. Without them, the cells in the body would die, the heart and lungs would stop, and the organs would not be able to carry out the basic functions for survival.  

You, therefore, require them every day, except that the number of calories you require every day varies as per gender, age, lifestyle, and body weight status. 

Calories are derived from the three macronutrients in the food: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in varying amounts. Vitamins, minerals, and water do not contain any.

Below are the values for the number of Calories supplied by the macronutrients in our food:

  • 1 g of carbohydrates contains 4 kcal
  • 1 g of protein contains 4 kcal
  • 1 g of fat contains 9 kcal

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other foods (not processed junk food) are nutrition-dense and contain a high quantity of nutrients per unit of energy. This post describes the number of calories in various foods

What are empty calories?

Empty calories are those that come from foods and drinks that are high in cals but contain no significant nutrients. These are the foods and drinks that are high in sugar, solid fats, or alcohol content, but offer no other nutritional value.

While empty cals provide instant energy, they have zero nutritive value. They contain virtually no dietary fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, dietary minerals, or vitamins. Their only contribution, therefore, is weight gain. 

The following is the number of empty calories offered by their main food sources: 

  • One gram of sugar offers 4 empty cals,
  • 9 empty calories come from one gram of fats, and
  • 7 empty calories come from one gram of pure alcohol.

If you drink alcohol, please note that all alcoholic beverages contain empty calories. Just a couple of drinks can give you about 500 empty cals.

Some common empty-calorie foods are:

  • Processed meats
  • Cakes 
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • French fries
  • Pastries
  • Pizza
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks
  • Sugar-sweetened coffee drinks
  • Ice cream

Interesting facts about calories 

1. The word “calories” mentioned in nutritional context or during exercise or on labels of food packages are actually “Calories” (with a capital ’C’) or kilocalories, each of which equals 1000 calories. 

2. Baskin Robbins gives you some fast foods with probably the highest calorie content:

  • Large Chocolate Oreo Shake – contains 2360 cals
  • Large Health Bar Crunch Shake – contains 2160 cals
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Shake –contains 2160 cals

3. A male athlete consumes more than 7000 cals per day.

4. Olympic champion swimmer, Michael Phelps consumes 12,000 cals when training – enough quota for six of us sedentary men.

5. Sumo wrestlers consume an average of 20,000 calories per day.

6. Tea and coffee, without milk and sugar, contain zero cals. Water, too, has none. 

7. Average consumption in the United States per person is 3790 calories per day. No wonder then that 67% of Americans are overweight and 31% are obese with a BMI of more than 30 kg/m2.

8. A general belief is that consuming a high-calorie diet during pregnancy greatly increases the chances of giving birth to a baby boy.

9. In New York, it is required for restaurants to display the calorie content of foods on their menu.

10. 30% of Americans get 50% of their cals from junk food.

11. One pound of body fat contains 3500 cals. In other words, you are required to burn 3500 to lose one pound of body weight. Ideally, you should lose 500 calories per day, so you lose 3500 cals and one pound in one week.

12. In the three decades of 1971 to 2000, calorie intake rose by 7% in men and 22% in women (American stats).

13. Only 12 percent of Americans can calculate the number of calories they consume during the day or are aware of how many of them they should consume. The rest are ignorant on this matter.

14. Exercise machines overestimate the number burnt during an exercise by 20 percent. The errors ranged from 7 percent on a stationary cycle to 42 percent on an elliptical machine.

15. Low-fat foods do not mean that they contain fewer calories. For example, two tablespoons of low-fat peanut butter contain 187 while the same amount of regular peanut butter contains 191 cals.

16. Kissing burns two calories per minute while sex uses 144 in half an hour. Therefore, if you are overweight and hate to exercise, this is a great choice to indulge in, more often.

17. We often associate calories with foods. But, anything that spends energy has them. One kilogram (kg) of coal, for example, contains 7,000,000 cals.