Understanding what exactly calories are and how they work can help you learn the best way to manage your intake and maintain a healthy weight.
Calories get a bad rap. We blame them for everything - from making us
feel guilty about enjoying a hot fudge sundae with extra nuts to the
way our jeans fit.
What exactly is a calorie? In essence, it is a measurement of
a unit of energy. The number of calories in the foods you eat
is a measure of the number of energy units that food supplies. Those
energy units are used by the body to fuel physical activity as well as
all metabolic processes, from maintaining your heartbeat and growing
hair to healing a scraped knee and building muscle.
It is important to ensure that you are taking in enough calories to balance the energy you exert. However, a recent study showed that caloric restriction, even in non-obese people, translates into less oxidative damage in muscle cells. As oxidative damage has been linked to aging, this could explain how limiting calorie intake without malnutrition extends life span.
So how do you figure out how many calories you need to cut to lose weight
vs. how many calories you need to maintain weight? First, you
need to know how many calories you're currently consuming. You can figure
that out by keeping a food journal: tracking calories for everything
you eat during a period including at least two weekdays and one weekend
day (since people tend to eat differently on weekends). Figure out the
calorie count for each food item, then tally the total calories and divide
by the number of days you tracked your intake to find your daily average.
The bottom line is that the more you understand about how calories work and how much are contained in the food you can consume, the better able you will be to eat the healthy amount and kind necessary for you to maximize your energy and maintain the right weight.
For even more info on calories, check out this article