What are Calories: Requirements, health needs, and function

Calories are a measure of the amount of energy that food provides to the body. They are essential for maintaining life, growth, and health.

But how many calories do we need, and what are the best sources of calories? In this article, we will answer these questions and explain the function of calories in the body.

What are calories and how do they work?

Calories are units of energy that are used to describe the amount of energy that food or drinks provide to the body. When we eat or drink, the body breaks down the nutrients in the food, such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and converts them into energy.

This energy is then used to power various processes and functions in the body, such as breathing, digestion, circulation, movement, and thinking.

The amount of calories that a food or drink contains depends on its composition and portion size. For example, a gram of fat provides about 9 calories, while a gram of carbohydrate or protein provides about 4 calories. A glass of water, on the other hand, provides zero calories, as it does not contain any nutrients.

The body needs a certain amount of calories to maintain its basic functions, such as keeping the heart beating and the lungs breathing.

This is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR), and it varies depending on factors such as age, sex, weight, height, and activity level. The BMR accounts for about 60% to 75% of the total calories that the body uses in a day.

The body also needs additional calories to support physical activity, such as walking, running, or lifting weights. This is called the physical activity level (PAL), and it accounts for about 15% to 30% of the total calories that the body uses in a day.

The body also uses some calories to digest and absorb the food that we eat. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF), and it accounts for about 10% of the total calories that the body uses in a day.

The sum of the BMR, PAL, and TEF is the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which is the total amount of calories that the body needs to maintain its weight and health.

BMR+PAL+TEF = TDEE

How many calories do we need?

The amount of calories that we need depends on our individual goals, such as maintaining, losing, or gaining weight. To maintain weight, we need to consume the same amount of calories as our TDEE. To lose weight, we need to consume fewer calories than our TDEE. To gain weight, we need to consume more calories than our TDEE.

The general recommendation is to create a moderate calorie deficit or surplus of about 500 calories per day, which can result in a weight loss or gain of about 0.5 kg (1 lb) per week. However, this may vary depending on the individual’s metabolism, body composition, and activity level.

To estimate the amount of calories that we need, we can use online calculators or formulas that take into account our age, sex, weight, height, and activity level. However, these are only rough estimates, and the best way to determine our calorie needs is to monitor our weight and body fat percentage over time and adjust our intake accordingly.

What are the best sources of calories?

The quality of the calories that we consume is as important as the quantity. Not all calories are created equal, and some foods provide more health benefits than others.

The best sources of calories are those that provide a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and phytochemicals (plant compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties).

Some examples of healthy foods that provide high-quality calories are:

¡》Fruits and vegetables:

These are rich in fibber, water, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and can help lower the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

They also provide natural sugars that can satisfy the sweet tooth and boost energy levels. Some examples of fruits and vegetables that are high in calories are bananas, avocados, mangoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas.

¡¡》Whole grains:

These are grains that have not been refined or processed, and retain their bran, germ, and endosperm. They are rich in complex carbohydrates, fibber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

They can help regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels, and prevent constipation. Some examples of whole grains that are high in calories are oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and barley.

¡¡¡》Nuts and seeds:

These are rich in healthy fats, protein, fibber, and various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E, selenium, copper, and manganese.

They can help lower blood pressure, improve blood lipid profiles, and reduce inflammation. They also provide a crunchy and satisfying snack that can curb hunger and cravings.

Some examples of nuts and seeds that are high in calories are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds.

¡V》Legumes:

These are plants that produce pods that contain seeds, such as beans, lentils, peas, and soybeans. They are rich in protein, fibber, and various vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, potassium, and calcium.

They can help lower cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar control, and support digestive health. They also provide a meatless alternative that can add variety and flavour to the diet.

Some examples of legumes that are high in calories are chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, and tofu.

V》Dairy products:

These are products that are made from the milk of animals, such as cows, goats, and sheep.

They are rich in protein, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D, and can help build and maintain strong bones and teeth, prevent osteoporosis, and support muscle growth and repair.

They also provide a creamy and delicious addition to the diet. Some examples of dairy products that are high in calories are cheese, yogurt, milk, and butter.

》Eggs:

These are the reproductive cells of birds, such as chickens, ducks, and quails. They are rich in protein, choline, and various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, and selenium.

They can help support brain function, eye health, and immune system. They also provide a versatile and easy-to-prepare food that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

Some examples of eggs that are high in calories are whole eggs, scrambled eggs, and omelettes.

V¡¡》Meat and poultry:

These are the flesh and organs of animals, such as cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and turkeys. They are rich in protein, iron, zinc, and various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, and phosphorus.

They can help support muscle growth and repair, blood formation, and energy production. They also provide a savoury and satisfying food that can enhance the flavour and texture of the diet.

Some examples of meat and poultry that are high in calories are beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and turkey.

V¡¡¡》Seafood:

These are the edible aquatic animals, such as fish, shellfish, and seaweed. They are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, iodine, and selenium.

They can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve brain function, and support thyroid health. They also provide a light and refreshing food that can add variety and colors to the diet.

Some examples of seafood that are high in calories are salmon, tuna, shrimp, crab, and seaweed.

X》Oils and fats:

These are substances that are liquid at room temperature and solidify when cooled, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and butter. They are rich in calories and provide energy and lubrication to the body.

They can also help absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. They also provide a smooth and rich food that can enhance the taste and texture of the diet.

Some examples of oils and fats that are high in calories are olive oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, and lard.

How to balance calories and health needs?

The key to balancing calories and health needs is to follow a balanced and varied diet that includes foods from all the food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, oils, and fats.

A balanced diet can provide the body with all the nutrients and energy that it needs, while also preventing overeating or undereating.

Some tips to balance calories and health needs are:

1. Eat according to your appetite and hunger cues, and stop when you are full and satisfied.

2. Choose foods that are nutrient-dense, meaning that they provide a lot of nutrients for a relatively low amount of calories, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

3. Limit foods that are calorie-dense, meaning that they provide a lot of calories for a relatively low amount of nutrients, such as processed foods, fast foods, sweets, pastries, and soft drinks.

4. Drink plenty of water and other calorie-free beverages, such as tea, coffee, and herbal infusions, to stay hydrated and prevent overeating due to thirst.

5. Include a source of protein, such as eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, nuts, seeds, or legumes, in each meal and snack, to support muscle growth and repair, and to keep you full and satisfied for longer.

6. Include a source of healthy fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard, nuts, seeds, avocado, or fatty fish, in each meal and snack, to provide energy and lubrication to the body, and to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins.

7. Include a source of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, or legumes, in each meal and snack, to provide fiber and energy to the body, and to help regulate blood sugar levels.

8. Vary your food choices and try new foods and recipes, to ensure that you get a wide range of nutrients and phytochemicals, and to prevent boredom and cravings.

9. Enjoy your food and eat mindfully, without distractions, such as TV, phone, or computer, to savour the taste, texture, and aroma of the food, and to listen to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness.

10. Treat yourself occasionally to foods that you enjoy, but are not necessarily healthy, such as chocolate, ice cream, pizza, or chips, to satisfy your taste buds and avoid feeling deprived. However, do not overindulge or binge on these foods, and limit them to small portions and infrequent occasions.

Conclusion

Calories are a measure of the amount of energy that food provides to the body. They are essential for maintaining life, growth, and health. However, the amount and quality of calories that we consume can affect our weight and health.

To balance calories and health needs, we need to follow a balanced and varied diet that includes foods from all the food groups, and that provides a moderate calorie deficit or surplus, depending on our goals.

By doing so, we can enjoy our food and achieve our optimal health and well-being.

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