Are all calories created equal?

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The equation is simple; consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Consume less than you burn, you’ll lose weight. Simple right?

When it comes to trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight, calorie intake is key. But the types of calories can be far more important for your overall health than just the pure numbers.

What are calories?

At its simplest, a calorie is a measure of the energy in the food that we eat.

More specifically calories are a unit used for measuring energy. A calorie is the amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water through 1° C (4.1868j). What we call a calorie when talking about nutrition is actually a kilo calorie, or Kcal. Which is 1000 calories. Equal to the amount of energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water through 1°C.

The calorie is today used principally as a measurement of the energy contained within food as the joule has become the standard unit of energy measurement in the wider scientific world.

For weight control, calorie intake is key

It is true that as far as weight control is concerned all calories are the same. Whether these calories come from carbs, fat or proteins makes no difference to this. The ratios of all of these different nutrient groups is important in how your food makes you feel though. Taking in 1000 calories in refined sugar, while burning 2000 calories through exercise will lead to you losing weight; but it will wreak havoc with your body in other ways. The nutrient deficit that you would suffer would cause you body to stop functioning properly. Your immune system would likely begin to suffer, and even your appearance could be harmed.

In many ways, calories are the least important aspect to consider when deciding what foods to eat. Nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are far more important to your health than caloric content.

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Good vs Bad

In general, plant-based foods have a large amount of positive nutrients along with their caloric content that make them wonderful for your all around health. Trying to limit the amounts of saturated fats that you take in can also have a brilliant effect. That by no means requires you to completely give up meat, and it may in fact be difficult to get enough protein without meat; unless you have a liking for nuts, seeds and pulses.

Foods that contain a large amount of sugar or saturated fats have a tendency to only make you feel full for a little while, and can lead to cravings and excessive snacking.

I personally think that it can be beneficial to have these thoughts in the back of your mind when working out your meals for the week. But I am also a fan of the odd takeaway pizza or curry, and I certainly won’t be giving them up completely any time soon. The important thing is to listen to your body, and understand what it is telling you. If you want a takeaway or a bit of a sweet treat, go for it; and be sure not to punish yourself for it afterwards.

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