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Guest post: Checking Calories in Food

Being able to maintain a healthy body and sensible weight relies on an understanding of calories, where they come from and what effects they have on your body.

You firstly need to understand what a calorie actually is – it’s a measurement of energy found in food. Food is fuel that enables the body to function, and it’s this energy that is counted in calories. You will find it listed on food packaging as ‘kcals’.

In order to achieve and sustain a healthy weight you should expend as much energy as you consume. For grown adults this usually means about 2000 calories a day for women, or 2500 for men. You can help make sure you’re staying within the recommended amounts by using an online calorie counter. To put it simply, you need to burn the same amount of calories by physical activity and exercise as you consume through food. If you regularly eat high calorie foods and do little physical exercise then this will lead to weight gain.

Getting this balancing act right will help with weight problems, although you should also be aiming to achieve good overall health alongside this. If you consume few calories and exercise a lot you will lose weight, however, if the calories have come from foods that lack in vitamins and nutrients, then there is a chance that your body will suffer over time as a result.

You need to make sure that you are eating the right foods, and that the calories are nutrient dense. As well as making it more likely that you won’t need to overeat, it will also mean you have a good source of the vitamins which help sustain a healthy body.

Where your calories come from can make a difference to your body’s protection against diseases such as heart problems, cancer and diabetes and so it is important to also understand different types of food and the effects of them on the body.

Saturated fats, which mainly come from animal fats and products but also many cakes and confectionary, should be kept to a minimum as they can increase heart attack-inducing cholesterol and lead to weight gain as they will be stored in the body directly as fat. Men and women should only consume 70g and 50g of fat per day respectively, with about a third of those coming from saturated fats.

There are ‘good’ fats however which you can consume more of. Unsaturated fats can have a positive effect on the body and can even lower cholesterol. Unsaturated fats can be found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, certain oils including olive and sunflower oil, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds. These foods are also high in calories however so portion size should still be controlled in order to sustain a healthy weight. They are more nutrient rich though, so they should fill you up for longer than an equivalent calorie dense food with fewer nutrients.

Calories can also be stored differently so it’s important to understand how different food converts energy. Lean protein is a great way to consume calories as when protein is ingested it works with the body’s own proteins to grow and repair tissue, instead of just being stored as fat. Sugar and refined carbohydrates, however, are converted straight to fat and also prompt the secretion of insulin, which can be attributed to weight gain.

Calories are not to be feared and some foods that are high in calories, for example nuts and avocadoes, can be good for you. However, you should always check food labels so that you can control the amount of calories you consume, whilst evaluating what type of food it is and what other health benefits it has to offer. Combine this sensible eating with exercise and you will keep weight off whilst potentially protecting yourself against life threatening illnesses.

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