Calories are a measure of the amount of energy in food. Knowing how many calories are in our food can help us to balance the energy we put into our bodies with the energy we use. That’s the key to a healthy weight.
We measure the amount of energy contained in an item of food in calories, just as we measure the weight of that item of food in kilograms.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a good idea to eat less and be more active. Eating less is important when you’re trying to lose weight, even if you already have a balanced diet.
Calories and energy balance
When we eat and drink, we’re putting energy (calories) into our bodies. Our bodies then use up that energy, and the more physical activity we do, the more energy (calories) we use.
To maintain a stable weight, the energy we put into our bodies must be the same as the energy we use by normal bodily functions and physical activity. If there are some days where we put in more energy than we use, then there should also be days where the opposite is true, so that overall the energy in and energy used remain balanced.
Weight gain occurs when we regularly put more energy into our bodies than we use. Over time, that excess energy is stored by the body as fat. Research shows that most adults eat and drink more than they need, and think that they are more physically active than they are.
Checking calories in food
Knowing the calorie content of foods can be a useful tool when it comes to achieving or maintaining a healthy weight. It can help us to keep track of the amount of energy we are eating and drinking, and ensure we’re not consuming too much.
The calorie content of many foods is stated on the packaging in the nutrition label, which you will often find on the back or side of the packaging. This information will appear under the “Energy” heading. The calorie content is often given in kcals, which is short for “kilo-calories”, and also in kJ, which is short for “kilo-joules”.
A “kilo-calorie” is another word for what is commonly called a “calorie”, so 1,000 calories will be written as 1,000kcals.
Kilo-joules are the metric measurement of calories. To find the energy content in kilo-joules, multiply the calorie figure by 4.2.
The label will usually tell you how many calories are contained in 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food or drink, so you can compare the calorie content of different products. Many labels will also state the number of calories in “one portion” of the food. But remember that the manufacturer’s idea of “one portion” may not be the same as yours, so there could be more calories in the portion you serve yourself.
You can use the calorie information to assess how a particular food fits into your daily calorie intake. As a guide, the average mans needs 2,500kcal (10,500kJ) to maintain his weight, and the average woman needs 2,000kcal (8,400kJ).
Vegan V’s Vegetarian V’s Raw What is the difference?
Neither vegans nor vegetarians eat meat. However, while vegetarians tend to consume dairy products and eggs, a vegan avoids all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and often inedible animal-based products, such as leather, wool, and silk. Vegetarianism is usually a diet, while veganism is a lifestyle. Vegetarians often choose their diet based on its reported health benefits or for religious or political reasons. In general, vegans have much stronger political beliefs regarding their diet, with some believing animals should be protected under many of the same laws that humans are.
When we talk about a “diet”, we often mean a weight-loss regime.
Many people who are perfectly happy with their weight are on “diets”, though, which aren’t intended to limit total food intake but to exclude certain types of food.
I’m going to give you the run-down on a few popular diets that involve eliminating certain foods, the reasons why people may adopt each, and some tips for catering for guests on each of these diets:
- Vegetarian (no meat)
- Vegan (no meat and no products from animals, e.g. eggs, milk)
- Raw food (no cooked food at all, often combined with veganism)
You’re probably familiar with the concept of a vegetarian diet – eating no meat. True vegetarians count any dead creature as meat, though semi-vegetarians relax this (for example, pescetarians eat fish). In the UK and US, most vegetarians will eat eggs and milk.
Common reasons for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle are:
- Ethical: Many vegetarians believe that eating animals is morally wrong.
- Health-related: A diet which excludes meat tends to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and a diet high in fruit and vegetables offers extra fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Environmental: It takes much more energy to produce meat than vegetables. Animal farming is a heavy contributor to global warming and pollution.
If you’re having a vegetarian round for dinner, here are some tips:
- Serve dishes which are not traditional American/British foods. Meals in the US/UK are often based around meat, whereas African, Asian, and Caribbean traditions include many dishes which can easily be adapted to being meat-free.
- Check whether your guest eats eggs and milk products.
- Examine food labels to check that the ingredients you’re using are fully vegetarian (the rennet used to make cheese coagulate, for instance, is commonly from calves’ stomachs).
A vegan diet can be seen as a vegetarian diet taken a stage further. Vegans eat no meat, nor do they eat any products that come from animals, such as eggs, milk and honey.
Common reasons for adopting a vegan lifestyle are:
- Ethical: Vegans generally believe that it is wrong to exploit and use animals for our gain.
- Health-related: A vegan diet has similar health benefits to a vegetarian one, though some adherents report increase energy from adopting a diet that excludes all animal produce.
- Environmental: Keeping farm animals to produce eggs and milk products still requires far more resources than just growing grain, fruit and vegetables.
If you’re having a vegan round for dinner, here are some tips:
- Choose a dish which is vegetable-based, such as a vegetable curry, or pasta with a tomato and vegetable sauce.
- Include some plant-based protein: beans, nuts or soya. Quorn is not suitable for vegans as it uses egg white as a binder.
- Remember that cream, ice-cream and most cake products are out due to containing milk and/or eggs. A fresh fruit salad with sorbet could make an alternative dessert.
Raw Food Diets
The raw food diet has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Unlike vegetarian and veganism, it doesn’t necessarily involve eliminating animal products (though the majority of raw foodists are also vegetarian or vegan).
Common reasons for adopting a raw food diet are:
- Weight-related: Most people lose weight easily on a raw food diet.
- Health-related: Enzymes in foods are killed when cooked, and raw foodists believe that avoiding cooking foods means that these enzymes can assist in the digestive process.
If you’re having a raw foodist round for dinner, here are some tips:
- Check whether they are 100% raw. Anyone who eats over 60% raw food is deemed a “raw foodist”. You may have some leeway on what you can serve.
- If catering for many non-raw guests, try serving a supper buffet that includes plenty of salads, fresh fruits, and raw nuts (check labeling). Olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar are all suitable raw salad dressings.
- Be very cautious if serving raw fish or meat – the risk of food poisoning is high.
If you follow any of the above diets, tell us about your experiences in the comments. What health benefits (if any) have you seen? What tips would you offer to someone who was interested making the change?