I tend to mindlessly buy food at the grocers without really looking into their labels. I just choose what I need and want and then I head to the counter.
As I began to live a healthier life, I realised that I have grossly underestimated the importance of reading labels. Particularly, looking into calories.
The Lowdown on Calories
Calories sort of have a bad rep in the fitness world. You hear things like,
“The dessert is calorie bomb!” or “Those crisps are full of calories, eeww!”
I don’t know about you, but hearing comments like these make me feel like calories is something I should avoid at all costs, especially when I’m trying to be fit. If it’s found in most food products, how in the world am I supposed to evade something that sounds so awful?
Short answer: you don’t.
A calorie is a unit of energy that can be found in food and drinks. It’s this energy that our bodies use whenever we do a physical activity.
Because it’s a unit of energy, calories are also in things like coal. As long as something provides energy, it contains calories.
Our bodies need energy to survive. Without it, bodily functions wouldn’t work and cells in the body would die. As you might have guessed, we get this energy from calories.
So, Should You Be Counting Them?
In a nutshell, yes, but before you obsess over every single calorie you put inside your body, let me explain.
Our bodies need calories to function properly. It’s in almost every food and drink we consume. It’s the type of calories that we need to watch out for. You see, there are what we’d call “empty calories” — these are food that have high energy levels (aka calories) but low in nutritional value. Empty calories, unfortunately, can be found everywhere. Hungry on your way home from work? That hotdog sandwich looks pretty tempting. Not in a good mood? You know a donut will help cheer you up. These foods, as yummy as they may be, contribute to unhealthy weight gain.
Empty calories may provide you with energy but you’ll likely feel an energy drop soon after. Empty calories contain no dietary fibre, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Solid fats and added sugars are the main sources of empty calories. Solid fats are found naturally in some food, but are usually added during industrial food processing. Added sugars, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, are also added to various food products and drinks during industrial food processing.
There are many sources of empty calories, which include many of my personal favourites (I’m sure you can find yours in the list too):
Food that contain both solid fats and added sugars
● ice cream
Food that contain solid fats
● hot dogs
Drinks with added sugars
● fruit drinks
● sports drinks
● energy drinks
Another important factor to consider is WHEN to consume calories to be able to get the most out of it. According to several studies, eating a heavy breakfast can help you maintain a healthy weight, even aid in weight loss. Eating a heavy breakfast also reduces the likelihood of you developing diabetes, heart disease, high levels of cholesterol.
On average, men need to consume more calories in a day (about 2, 700 calories) while women are recommended to have 2, 200 calories during their waking hours. This is a rough estimate, and your caloric needs depend greatly on other factors (like if you’re trying to lose some weight).
What comes in, must come out. Or so the saying goes.
The same can be said for calories. We expel food in a few ways, two of which we do on a daily basis (number 1 and 2, ahem) but another, less common way to use calories is actually pretty simple: being physically active.
When we exert our bodies to do physical activities like exercise, we use up the calories we’ve consumed. Any left over calories that we don’t use on a daily basis eventually gets stored in the crevices of our bodies and get turned into fat (read more about body fat content here).
So, in a nutshell, when we are physically active and eat the right amount and right kind of calories, there really is no need to whip out your calculator and begin to obsess over it.
Calories: Friend or Foe
Our relationship with food has drastically changed in the last few decades. Instead of viewing it as a necessity to survive, most have demonised the role of food in their daily lives, to the point of developing an eating disorder. While we simply can’t avoid holding off to that slice of chocolate cake or that bag of crisps, being mindful and making conscious food choices can definitely make a huge difference in our bodies and ultimately our lives.
At Rec Xpress we believe in a wholesome and safe approach to fitness. Our personal trainers are equipped to help you gain a healthier body and lifestyle. We look forward to meeting you at any of our 5 branches!