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What Is a Calorie?

Monday, 27 Dec 2010 02:50 PM

Watching your diet means running into many calorie-related references. Be it calorie counting, calorie-controlled regimes, low-calorie diets, calorific value of particular foods, number of calories burned, the daily calorie allowance, the term pops up everywhere. Ever thought about what exactly is a calorie? How does counting calories make so much difference to the way we look, feel, and behave?
 
Defining a Calorie
A calorie is a unit of energy in the metric system of measurement. While the term calorie is commonly used for foods, it can be used to measure any form of energy, even gasoline. In physical science, a calorie is defined as the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.
 
Calorie Conversions:
  • 1 calorie = 4.184 joules
  • 1000 calories = 1 kilo calorie
  • 1 kilocalorie or food calorie= 4184 joules
When the term calorie is used in the context of food, it usually refers to a kilocalorie. So, if we say that a large portion of French fries contains 250 calories, we actually mean 250 kilo or food calories, or 250 x 1000 regular calories.

The same principle is used when we talk about calories getting burned in any exercise regime. For example, if a calorie calculator chart states that the calories burned during one hour of brisk walking (at the speed of 5 Mph) for an adult is 550 calories, it means 550 kilocalories or 550 x 1000 regular calories are burned.
 
Calorie Count
The calorie count or the number of calories present in any food item is basically a measure of how much energy can the human body derive from it. The three main building blocks of any food are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. While one gram each of carbohydrate and protein yields 4 calories, one gram of fat gives 9 calories. So, it is clear that if we eat 100 grams each of carbohydrate- and fat-rich food, then the number of calories derived from the fat-rich food would obviously be much higher.
 
Calorie Calculator
If you read the nutritional label on the back of any packaged food, and know how many carbohydrates, fats, or proteins the food contains; you can easily calculate the total calorie count of that food.
 
Common terms like “low calorie” or “calorie free” refer to the fact that the calories in the food per serving are less than 40 calories and 5 calories, respectively. For people into calorie counting and opting for low-calorie diets to lose weight or stay healthy, it is imperative to look at the source of these calories along with the number of calories consumed. Also, never forget to check what the exact serving size is, as this may surprise you!

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