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What are calories, how many do I need?

What is a Calorie?

  • One calorie, the kind we measure in food, also called a large calorie, is defined as the amount of energy it would take to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Calories are a way of keeping track of the body's energy budget. A healthy balance occurs when we put in about as much energy as we lose.
  • If we keep putting more energy into our bodies than we burn, the excess will eventually be stored as fat in our cells, and we'll gain weight. Alternatively, if we burn off more energy than we put in, we'll lose weight.

How many calories do I need?

  • How many calories one might need is a very subjective. The 2000 calorie standard established by various food agencies is only an average and not a daily requirement. Youd could need more calories than that or maybe less depending on factors such as your gender, your height, brain activity, keeping the heart beating, deliberate physical activity such as jogging, working out, engaging in any sort of sports.

Calories in food

Calories are provided by the nutrients carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Unlike these, water, vitamins and minerals don't give us calories but provide only the necessary nourishment.

After our body digests food, the nutrients get released and absorbed into the bloodstream after which are converted to glucose, or blood sugar. This blood sugar gives our body the energy needed to do things such as shiver, breathe,blink, remember, transport blood to various organs, run, and a lot more.

However if we don't use the energy provided by the three macro nutrients then it invariable gets converted to fats. So it holds true that excess carbohydrates are just as fattening as excess protein, and as excess fats, but all at slightly different levels.

Nutrient / Food Item (1 gram) Calorie provided per gram
Carbohydrates  4
Protein  4
Fat  9
Alcohol  7

Fat provides the maximum calories, which is good when food is scarce, but otherwise for people trying to lose weight, or not gain it can be pretty bad. Vitamins, minerals and indigestible fiber have no calories.

How to choose right calories / right food?

  • Note that, calories themselves aren't that bad at all. It's only if you consume more that you can burn, then they pose a problem.
  • Also note that calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from fat, carbs or protein. But it comes down to which one of the 3 you choose to get them from. Do you choose to get your calories from foods that are nourishing while being filling or from foods that are packed with sugar, and provide no nourishment while getting you carving for more?
  • If you choose to get 100 calories from a bowl of salad which will obviously will also help you get your vitamins, minerals and fibre, then it’s a wise choice.
  • On the other hand if you eat a small piece of sugary doughnut it might give you a 100 calories as well, but certainly not the vitamins, minerals, fibre that your body needs. What's worse is it won’t be as filling as a bowl of salad which might lead you to eat more. 
  • Also note that most processed food have refined sugars which fail to supress the hunger hormones, the presence of which keeps you carving for more.
  • The solution to this is straightforward, and it is to eat a diet that emphasizes good fats and avoids blood sugar spikes -- in short everything that has great fibre content, very less or no meat, fruits and fresh vegetables, and restricts sugar and grains to the maximum extent that is possible.

Symptoms of excess calorie intake

  • Excess calories lead to Obesity (excess weight gain) as excess energy gets stored as fat in the body.
  • Excess weight also leads to increased load on the limbs giving rise to knee pain, inflation and Osteoarthritis
  • As you get heavier the over all body process become more stressful. The heart has to pump harder, kidneys and liver have to filter more, and eventually high blood pressure and risk of Heart Disease sets in.
  • Risk of Diabetes increases if your high-calorie diet is mostly comprised of excess carbohydrates and sugar. When the body is unable to produce enough insulin to neutralize blood sugar or when the insulin receptors become insensitive to the insulin in the body, then the sugar molecules fail to enter your cells to produce energy, and they instead remain in your bloodstream. This is categorized as TYPE 2 Diabetes.
  • Symptoms of lack of adequate calorie intake

  • Weight loss may happen if your calorie intake is lesser than your energy output.
  • May cause Mood fluctuations
  • If your calorie deficit is accompanied with nutrient deficiency then hair-loss, loss of vitality and vigour can become noticeable.
  • If your weight loss is prolongedweakness and muscle loss may set in.
  • Latest on Calorie Research

    If you are Overweight

  • Your problem is less complicated but hard to follow; as you need to eat more nutrient and fibre dense foods to feel full while restricting calories.
  • Nutrient and fibre dense foods are fruits, boiled/steamed veggies and cooked whole grains (minimum quantity). They obviously aren't as tasty to eat as processed foods like burgers, meat products, and canned/packaged food items.
  • You could make a slow transition over to eating healthy food, just by stopping the consumption of COLAS, CHOCOLATES, CAKES, PIZZAS, BURGERS, etc for a month. These can be replaced with natural fruits, fresh fruit juice, steamed veggies, etc. Many have seen the difference and have got motivated to turning this 1 month challenge into a total lifestyle change
  • Start with any form of exercise you enjoy; and slowly try to push the limits, but make sure you don't increase your calorie intake accordingly.
  • If you are Underweight

  • Your problem is a little tricky, but hey you can eat a lot more than folks who are tying to loose weight, so don't get worked up.
  • Consume more calories than you burn.
  • Eat nutritious food like veggies, fruits, seeds, nuts, cheese, eggs(3 in a week) whole grains.
  • Eat more frequently, to disallow sugar in the blood to drop.
  • Yoga and meditation might help you centre your focus and limit restlessness