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Burn calories, cut calories, low calorie diet, you hear about calories all the time in the news, from your friends and in all sorts or TV and magazine stories. So what is a calorie and what can you do with it?

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What it is

A calorie is very simply a measure of the energy stored in food. 

Technically, a food calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise one kilogram or water by one degree Centigrade. So in fact, when we are talking about food and nutrition, what is usually referred to, as a calorie is actually 1000 calories in the technical sense.

Do not be confused by this double use of the word. When a nutritionist or friend tells you that you will burn 300 calories by playing with the kids for an hour in the yard, they actually mean 300 Kilocalories (kcal). In words we all call a kilocalorie a calorie but written as a measure you would write kcal. The easiest way to get on top of this is with this simple example:

1 medium apple – weight 182 g – Energy 105 kcal – 100 kcal from carbohydrates

I have an apple that is 182 grams and has 105 calories with 100 of those calories coming from carbohydrates.

That is it – simple! 

Well sort of. The other issue is that the modern international unit for food energy is not in fact a calorie – kcal – at all; it is the Joule and kilojoules. This is the unit of measuring food energy, which is officially recommended by the World Health Organization among others. For many countries including Australia the kilojoules is the official measure of food energy although the calorie is still in common usage.

One calorie, 1 kcal = 4.1868 kilojoules (kJ)

Where you find Calories
Fats, carbohydrates (including fiber), proteins, organic acids, polyols (sugar alcohols) and ethanol (drinking alcohol) all contain calories. With all foods being made up of these six nutrients. All other nutrients in food including water, vitamins, minerals, caffeine (tea and coffee have no calories) and antioxidants, contain no calories at all.

A calorie is a calorie
It does not matter where that calorie came from; a calorie from chocolate is exactly the same as a calorie from an apple. Where the difference comes is that you need a much larger amount of apple to get the same calories as a small piece of chocolate.

A 100 Gram block of chocolate will give you about 550 calories and for that same 550 calories you would eat almost a kilogram of apples.

Nutritionists will usually talk about the number of calories in a gram of a nutrient.

Calories In Nutrients
Nutrient Calories per gram
Fat 9 kcal/g
Ethnol (drinking alcohol) 7 kcal/g
Protein about 4 kcal/g
Carbohydrates about 4 kcal/g
Fiber (a carbohydrate) Less than 4 kcal/g
Organic food acids Less than 4 kcal/g
Polyols (sugar alcohol) Less than 4 kcal/g
Water 0 kcal/g
Vitamins 0 kcal/g
Minerals 0 kcal/g


Fiber and Calories

A carbohydrate like fiber that are not totally absorbed by your body will obviously have fewer calories. So a high fiber food will have less calories than a low fiber similar food.

Now it is easy to see how an apple, which is mostly water, carbohydrates and fiber, has so many fewer calories than a chocolate that is mostly fat, protein and carbohydrates.

Too Many Calories
Your body, like your car needs fuel to work and get you out and about. In a car the fuel is petrol. With you body the fuel is food, all of which has calories. Your body breaks the food down into energy measured by calories. Like a car, your body needs a particular amount of energy to function properly. But that is where the similarity between your car and your body ends. When you car is full any extra fuel will just over-flow. However, with your body extra calories – eating more food than you need – caused your body to store that extra energy as FAT in your body.

Protein, carbohydrates, fat. They all have calories of energy - they are all essential for your body to function, without them or enough of them you body would simply stop working.  With too many your body will become fat with all the extra stored calories of energy. Your aim is for balance. Balance the calories of energy that you eat with the calories of energy that your body uses as you live your life.

Keep The Calorie Balance

Calories count
* If the calories that you eat equal the calories that you burn or use then your weight will remain the same. 
• If your calories eaten are greater than your calories used your body will store fat.
• If your calories eaten are less than your calories used your body will burn away excess fat. 

There are some simple ideas that will help you eat all you need without having the energy stored as fat.

Activity uses calories – Walking, playing, riding, running and workouts are some activities that you can do which use or burn the calories. The more exercise you do the more you can eat without gaining fat or the more fat that you will burn.

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