Breaking Down… Calories

Calories are simply a unit of measurement for energy. Just as meters and feet are for length, pounds and grams are for weight, and liters and fluid ounces are for volume. But the word has come a long way from it’s humble origins. Many misconceptions have been formed about calories, and not many people have a full explanation given to them before they form their opinions regarding them. Since being properly informed is the point of this blog, read on for the full explanation and mythbusting of calories!

The first myth about calories is that they are bad. People see high calorie foods, such as avocados, fish, and dairy items, and immediately assume them to be unhealthy. This is an extremely flawed process of thinking, because fish is one of the best meats, avocados one of the best vegetables, and dairy items are some of the best ways to get Vitamin D and Calcium into your body. As I mentioned before, a calorie itself is not bad. It cannot be bad. As mentioned before, calories are the unit of measurement for energy. But this is not the entire story. Calories are used to measure the energy that can be gained from a fuel source. Even fuels that seem extremely different from a cheeseburger, such as uranium, can be measured in calories. Surprisingly, uranium has about 18,000,000 kilocalories, but it is deemed unhealthy for other reasons which do not need to be explained. At least I hope they don’t have to. All food is fuel, so if you try to maintain a low-calorie diet, you might have to drive to the gas station a few more times.

The second myth is usually “discovered” after a basic understanding of the previous myth. People start to think that they need a lot of fuel. Many athletes have to maintain high calorie diets, but these diets never contain unhealthy foods. This is because of a concept known as an “empty calorie”. To understand what an empty calorie is, you need to understand what gives a food fuel to be high on calories. A few notable mentions, carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, and fats. If a food has fibers and proteins, it can deliver a healthy and full high-calorie meal. But if the calories depend on fats and carbohydrates, then it can result in giving a short burst of energy, but cannot be maintained. When a food’s calories come from fats and carbohydrates, it most likely contains empty calories. When people have to bulk up their meals, they stay away from these foods, and you should too.

The third myth is based off of the format of Nutrition Labels. We’ve all seen thousands of them in our lives. What is the first item on the list? Calories. In bolded and large font, right at the top? Calories. We have been reprogrammed to focus on the amount of calories in a food instead of the other factors. An amount of calories does not make up how healthy a food is. Rather, the important information lies underneath. Keep an eye out for proteins (recommended 50 grams), carbohydrates (recommended 275 grams), sodium (recommended 2300 milligrams), fats (recommended 78 grams), sugars (recommended 50 grams), cholesterol (recommended 300 milligrams), and fibers (recommended 28 grams).

The last myth is more of a fun fact. This is not really a misconception, it just goes unnoticed by a lot of people. When I brought up the caloric information of uranium, my unit of measurement was not calories, but kilocalories. In most places you see the unit of calories, what is actually meant is kilocalories. If you search up how many calories are in a food, your result will most likely be in calories. This is because the two terms have been used interchangeably. In some scientific journals, the unit of measurement is more carefully regarded, but the general rule of thumb: people use calories as the unit instead of kilocalories. So if you ever see someone say 18,000,000 kilocalories, they do not mean 18,000,000,000 calories. They just mean 18,000,000 calories.

Now that these myths about calories have been cleared up, I hope that you will take a more logical approach when it comes to nutrition labelling and food choices. Stay healthy!

Sources:
For Empty Calories: https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2021/jan/empty-calories-what-are-they-and-which-foods-are-they-hiding-in/
For Daily Values: https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/daily-value-new-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels
For Kilocalories vs. Calories: https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/fnic/what-difference-between-calories-and-kilocalories

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