Some people count them, some increase them, some reduce them, most of us love them, many even fear them, but we ALL need them. A Calorie, technically speaking, is the ENERGY it takes to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. In short, a Calorie is heat ENERGY that is responsible for fueling our bodies. However, as you know, consuming in excess does not necessarily equate to us bouncing off the walls like the energizer bunny; fortunately our bodies are built to deal with excess in other ways. But when is a “calorie just a calorie” and why are we so obsessed?
To accurately answer these questions, we need to first make the distinction between a ‘Calorie’ and a ‘Calorie source’. The adult body requires from 1000 to 1400 Calories to fuel essential organs including the brain, heart, lungs as well as maintain posture and body temperature. This minimum number of Calories is your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and various greatly depending on many factors. We cannot survive without food (Calorie sources) to supply us with this necessary energy (Calories). So, when we are talking about energy, “a Calorie really is JUST a Calorie”.
With that said, not all ‘Calorie sources’, aka foods, are created equal. Putting all ‘Calorie sources’ in the same category is a big mistake. It is true that if we consume more calories than our bodies are able to burn we will store them away, sometimes as fat. Generally speaking, excess will pack on the pounds. But, to take things a step further, some ‘Calorie sources’ when consumed in any amounts may leave you out of sorts, sluggish or even hungry. Yes, the opposite of energy because your body is forced to send an S.O.S. to other digestive/eliminatory processes to rid the body of the unwanted junk. This category is what many refer to as empty calories. Other ‘Calorie sources’ will energize you in all the right ways, supplying a healthy, steady release of what you need and when you need it. Some may even help to burn off the stored Calories giving you balanced energy throughout your day.
So if you’re thinking it’s all about Calories; it’s not. It’s about the Calorie source, not the Calorie itself. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all capable of providing us with energy. One gram of carbohydrates or protein comes in at 4 Calories of energy while the same amount of fat measures in at 9 Calories. Within each food category, there are even more differences. For example the more processed or unnatural the fat, carbohydrate or protein source is, the more likely it will end up in storage- your gut, love handles, man boobs, thighs and back side. It’s like randomness that piles up on your desk, you know the stuff you’re not quite sure what to do with, the same thing happens in your body. On the other hand, natural fat sources ( nuts, fish oils and avocados),hearty plant proteins and free-range/wild meats and of course unrefined carbs (vegetables, whole grains and beans), in the right combinations and amounts supply the body the fuel that it needs to sustain and maintain itself.
So the next time you hear the term “a Calorie is a Calorie”, whether you feel the need to reach out and debunk this nutrition myth, or decide to sit back and be thankful you have your facts straight, here you have it. Regardless if you’ve embarked on a weight loss or weight gain journey or are just trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, “ a Calorie is really just a Calorie” if you’re sitting in physics lab, but at the dinner table it’s all about the Calorie SOURCE; it’s the source, not the Calorie that will make or break you.