Eating healthy and staying fit should not only be a good habit, but a life choice. Unfortunately, most of us cannot resist the delicious temptations like cakes, candies, chips and such. In the process of fooling ourselves that we are in fact in control of our desires for these “forbidden foods”, we start counting the calories. Some people really manage do this right, but most people don’t. And who can blame them? Counting calories can be a tricky business for some. It can reveal some horrific facts about ourselves and our eating habits.
What are calories?
But what are calories? Well, they are simply a unit of energy. A calorie refers to either energy consumption through eating and drinking, or energy usage through physical activity. The human body needs energy to survive and to function properly, thus it needs calories. In other words, the number of calories in the food tells us how much potential energy it has. The point is, to live a healthy life, one needs to consume calories, but just the right amount. So stop trying to avoid them completely. You really can’t. Not just because you really need them, but because calories are in every food and drink in existence.
Let’s look at the calorie values of the three main components of the food we eat:
-1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
-1 gram of protein = 4 calories
-1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Figuring out how many calories your body needs
By now you are probably asking how many calories should I eat? Well, not all people need the same amount of calories per day. The amount of calories one needs to eat a day depends on a few things: gender, age, height, size, daily activity level, and that person’s overall health. All of these factors can make counting calories very frustrating.
To make things even harder, the health experts all over the world cannot agree on the subject how much calories a person needs to consume per day. The US government experts say that the ideal intake for the average man is 2,700 calories per day and 2,200 for the average woman. The NHS (National Health Service) in the UK says that ideal intake is 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations says the average adult should consume no less than 1,800 calories per day. So think of these as general guidelines on calorie consumption.
There’s an equation (the Harris-Benedict equation) that estimates what a person's basal metabolic rate, or BMP, and daily requirements are. But we’re not going to do any math here, there’s always an easier way. If you don’t want to guess your ideal calorie intake, there are a few calorie counters that take all of the abovementioned factors into account and give you a fairly good result. Note that most of them will ask for your average daily level of activity. This will most likely be divided into three categories: sedentary, moderately active and active.
If your lifestyle includes only the usual, light day-to-day physical activity, than choose the sedentary option. If your lifestyle includes physical activity equal to walking about 1,5 to 3 miles per day (plus the day-to-day physical activity), choose moderately active. You have an active lifestyle if your usual light day-to-day activity includes physical activity equal to walking more than 3 miles per day.
To calculate your ideal daily calorie intake, here are some calorie counters that can help you.
What to eat and how much?
No matter if you’re trying lose weight, or gain weight, of just trying to have more energy to get you through the day, there is one crucial thing you must remember - that counting calories is not enough. What is even more important is what you eat. Eating just 3 bites of cheeseburger will certainly agree with your calories math, but it will never help you to lose weight, or even have the energy you need throughout the day. A plate full of veggies, meat or fish and a bit of olive oil will keep you fed for much longer than a small cheeseburger or popcorn with butter. And it will give you more energy. This is because the healthy food contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and dietary fiber. These are all important nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis.
Foods like cookies, doughnuts, pizza, bacon, cheese, sodas, energy drinks etc., contain little or no nutrients at all, and yet they are full of calories. Those are the ones that nutritionists refer to as empty calories. Consuming the ideal amount of calories through these foods will not help you one bit. Even more, it will most likely be the cause of some disastrous effects on your metabolic health.
Eating food rich in nutrients and low in solid fats and added sugars is the way to go. This means eating veggies and fruits with every meal, if possible. Meat and fish are also essential for a balanced and healthy diet. Keep your meals between 400 – 600 calories, and make sure to include only nutritious food. Make sure you drink a lot of water, at least 8 glasses a day, especially if you are trying to lose weight, as this will help you burn more calories. And of course, top this with doing at least some regular exercise, to help you tone your muscles and keep you energized. If you’re not the gym type, at least take long walks with a friend, or your dog.