Truth about what calories really are

Knowing what a calorie actually is will help you learn how to better manage your weight loss plan and live a healthier life. | wikicommons

We all require energy to function. Our cars require gas to get from one place to the next and our iPhones require a daily charge to survive eight hours of texting and game play during a long day of sitting in class. The energy animals require is called the calorie. So the question is, “What exactly is a calorie?” Each student on campus understands the basic concept of a calorie, but new studies show that almost 75 percent of Americans do not know the true definition of a calorie. We know that there are more calories in a number four from Taco Bell than in a single classic chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, but what most of us don’t understand is what these numbers truly mean.

A calorie is a measure of energy; more precisely, it is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. Nutritionally speaking a calorie is used to determine the energy potential of food. Let me put this idea into play. When we wake up in the morning (or for some of us, the afternoon), energy is needed to wake our bodies up in order to function. Whether it is driving to school or editing a paper minutes before it’s due, our bodies need calories for fuel.

If we deprive our bodies from the appropriate energy we need to function then we crash; on the other hand, if we give our bodies more energy than required then it is placed around our midsection and used later as a reserve. There are several places to find your calorie requirements, including online or on your phones, but once you have this number, what does it mean?

I require 1,650 calories each day just to survive. This number is the minimum for my body to get through one day without resorting to destroying my organs to survive; scary, huh? Currently I am training for the Ironman triathlon so my actual calorie requirement jumps a thousand points — 2,600. Taco Bell offers a chicken ranch taco salad that sounds awesome. What could be better than a salad, right? Well this salad offers 910 calories; add a 32 ounce Coke and you have 1,300 calories — or 50 percent of my daily needs — just for lunch.

Calories are all kind of equal; carbohydrates, protein and fat are the three nutrients that provide calories. For each gram of carbohydrates and protein you get 4 calories, and 9 calories for each gram of fat. As far as alcohol, that’s separate article. Take a student that eats a meal with 40 grams of fat while a friend eats a meal with 40 grams of carbohydrates and protein. Each student will consume 360 and 160 calories respectively. It is best to limit the amount of fat you eat each day.

It’s no wonder Americans are getting heavier; we simply don’t understand the concept of the calorie. The obesity epidemic is like the BP oil spill. There is a higher rate of problems, and very limited clean up or prevention. If we understand the idea of controlling our caloric intake then we have a better chance of preventing factors that lead to obesity. Let me leave you with a simple equation with no difficult math, I promise; calories eaten every day should match calories expended everyday to maintain your current weight.


  • Stewart, what a great article! You really cleared up exactly what a calorie is. Now, hopefully, people will be better informed about how not only to maintain their weight by counting calories, but how to reduce the anount of calories we ingest…if needed!!!!!

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