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Nutrition 101: Calories

What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of measure that determines the amount of heat needed to increase the temperature of one kilogram of water from 0 to 1 degree Celsius. One thousand of these calories are called kilocalories. Kilocalories or calories are what we use to define energy from food.

Where do calories come from?

Calories in a food come from macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each macronutrient has a standard number of calories. Carbohydrates and protein both contain 4 calories per gram while fats have 9 calories per gram.

How many calories should people consume?

The number of calories that a person should consume depends on a variety of factors, including age, gender, and activity level. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide a chart to determine an estimate of your needs.

Are all calories the same?

There are two categories of calories when referring to nutrition: empty calories and nutrient-dense calories.

Empty calories contain few to no nutrients. Nutrients include carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Foods with empty calories tend to be high in refined carbohydrates and/or solid fats and they provide energy but little else in the way of quality nutrition. Empty-calorie foods and drinks include candy, chips, white bread, cookies, and soda.

Nutrient-dense calories contain energy, plus vitamins and minerals (and in some cases, fiber) that support the growth and maintenance of bones, muscles, and the multiple systems of the body. Nutrient-dense calorie foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy. Choosing nutrient-dense calories most often promotes optimal health.

The bottom line:

Calories are in most foods and drinks that we consume. Choosing foods and drinks that contain nutrient-dense calories most often contributes to wellness. Alternatively, choosing foods and drinks with empty calories most often contributes to health risk factors including obesity, hypertension, and high blood cholesterol.

DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is for informational purposes and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any illness. Consult a physician before taking any action.

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