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A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.

Calorie

A calorie is basically the energy obtained from the foods consumed. In other words, it is the amount of energy in food that is available through digestion. Actually, a calorie is an element of computation or evaluation; however, it is not use to determine length or weight. While a pound is the unit for measuring weight, a volt is a unit for measuring electricity and a kilometer is a unit to measure distance, calorie is the unit to measure the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by 1°C at normal atmospheric pressure. This definition of calorie is also called gram calorie or small calorie. In fact, it would have been easier to explain what a calorie is provided the body was composed of ice; nevertheless, the above definition fully elucidates what a calorie exactly denotes. For instance, when you come across a food product that states it encloses 100 calories, it denotes the exact amount of energy your body may acquire by eating or drinking the food.

The fact is that energy is essential for our body to carry out its different functions normally and this energy or calorie is obtained from the foods we consume. The body needs energy to perform any function, both internal as well as external. Now, the question is how much energy is required by our body. Well, this will vary depending on a number of aspects, including the different activities undertaken by an individual throughout the day - sleeping, sitting, standing, walking, and exercising and so on. In fact, our body also requires sufficient amount of energy for the functioning of the internal organs, such as digestion of food, blood circulation, respiration and others. On an average, a healthy adult male requires anything between 2,000 and 3,000 calories every day to perform his regular functions appropriately. Thus, if the individual consumes precisely this amount of calories daily, he will remain fit and healthy neither gaining nor losing any weight. Therefore, it is essential that in order to remain healthy and not gain any undesired weight one should only consume as much calories as he uses or burn up during a day. However, the fact is that the amount of calories required not only differs from one person to another, but also from one day to another.

Going back to the definition of calorie, the term denotes an element of measurement or determination of the energy enclosed in any food. In other words, a calorie or 'C' is the amount of energy the body obtains by eating or drinking a food item. One calorie or 'C' should not be mistaken for one '°C' or degree of Celsius. On the other hand, one calorie or 'C' denotes 1kcal or 1,000 calories equivalent to 4,184 joules. Similarly, when we mention one calorie (calorie with uncapped 'c'), it denotes 1c or 0.001 kcal, which is actually the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by 1°C.

As discussed earlier, the minimum energy requirement differs from one person to another depending on a number of factors, including sex, age, and build-up of the body as well as the intensity of the physical activities undertaken by an individual. Normally, it is recommended that adult males should consume anything between 2,000 to 3,000 calories every day, while the average daily consumption of calories for adult women should be between 1,500 and 2,500.

The majority of the energy acquired from ingestion is necessary simply for maintaining different functions, such as the heart beat, preserving the body temperature and others. Use of energy for such internal body processes or functions is denoted as an individual's Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Failure to consume the basic minimum calories or energy to maintain the BMR as well as the different physical activities undertaken by an individual will actually lead to an enhanced spending or burning of the stored up energy in the body. In such cases, people suffer from unwanted weigh loss. On the other hand, when an individual consumes more energy compared to what is required by his or her body to carry out the regular functions, it will ultimately result in undesired weight gain. This is primarily because in such situations the body stores up the unused or surplus energy in the form of fat for use whenever necessary.

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When there is a recurrent failure to provide the energy requisites for the body to function normally, it will ultimately result in starvation. In fact, when the body is not able to obtain any energy from the fat reserves, it looks for the essential calories in the muscles, bones and eventually even the internal organs with a view to function normally as well as strive to keep a person alive. It may be noted here that in due course, acute or persistent starvation or undernourishment may also prove to be fatal.

Are calories good for health?

When we say consuming less than required calories or taking them in excess, many people begin to wonder whether calories are actually beneficial for our health. Thus, they need to be assured that calories are actually not bad for our health. In fact, our body requires calories for energy for carrying out each and every function normally. Nevertheless, consuming excessive calories, much beyond what is required by the body, and not using or burning them up by undertaking sufficient physical activities may result in adverse effects, especially undesired weight gain.

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Almost all the foods and drinks consumed by us regularly include varying amounts of calories. A number of foods, for instance lettuce, enclose lesser amount of calories compared to other foods, such as peanuts, which enclose plenty of calories. While a cupful of grated lettuce contains not more than 10 calories, half-a-cup of peanuts will enclose as much as 427 calories.

If you go through the nutrition facts label of any packaged food product, you will be able to learn how much calories a particular food contains. In addition, the label on the package will also portray the ingredients of the food - the precise number of grams of carbohydrate, fat and protein it includes. Here is a brief account of the number of calories present in one gram of the following:

  • Carbohydrates: one gram contains four calories.
  • Protein: one gram contains four calories.
  • Fat: one gram contains nine calories.

Such description on the labels are useful for the consumers, as they enable them to make out the number of grams of each ingredient that is present in the food and hence, calculate the entire calories they intake when they consume the food. In order to find out the exact amount of calories you are consuming, you will need to multiply the number of grams of each ingredient by the number of calories present in each gram of that component in the food. For instance, if you are having one serving of potato chips containing 20 chips that has 10 grams of fat, you will be consuming 90 calories only from the fat content in the potato chips. You can make this out by multiplying 10 grams by nine calories for each gram of fat. Isn't this a simple way to keep track of the number of calories you are consuming each time you eat or drink something?

People who are keen to lose weight and making efforts in this direction especially watch their calorie intake carefully. Although majority of the children do not require keeping track of their calorie consumption, it is certainly beneficial for all to eat a healthy and balanced diet that comprises the correct number of calories. In other words, a healthy and balanced diet is one that does not contain excessive or too less calories. Now, the question is how one makes out the precise number of calories required by their body daily to function effectively and does not allow any excess fat accumulation or lead to starvation.

The way our body utilizes calories

There is a misconception among several people regarding calories vis-à-vis weight gain. Many of them are of the opinion that they need to use up all the calories they consume daily, or else they would be gaining undesirable weight. This is, however, a wrong conception. In fact, an individual's body requires some amount of calories in order to carry out vital and necessary functions, such as maintaining a normal heart beat as well as operate the lungs for breathing. And, children especially require some additional calories from different foods in order to facilitate their growth and development. In fact, sometimes people burn off some energy consumed unknowingly or without realizing that they are using up their calories - for instance, by taking their dog for a walk or even making their bed.

However, in order to remain fit and burn up the surplus calories, it is a good initiative to be active or participate in any sport for a minimum of one hour daily and may continue the activities for a number of hours every day. In other words, this means that when you spend your time participating in sports, running around outside or riding a bike is an excellent way to burn up the surplus calories you intake through your foods. And, all these activities go a long way in keeping you fit, healthy and free from the risks of unwanted weight gain. In fact, when you are active throughout the day, you not only maintain a healthy weight, but are also able to ward off various ailments.

It may be mentioned here that "activities" such as watching television or playing video games do not help you to burn your calories in any manner. Hence, it is important that one should restrict such comparatively sedentary aspects of his or her routine to not more than one to two hours daily. While a considerable number of calories is burnt when you participate in physical activities, but when you are watching television you just spend one calorie every minute. It is almost equal to the number of calories you usually burn up when you are sleeping.

Functioning of calories

So what is the precise amount of energy consumed by an average adult male or female? Well, it is not all that difficult to find an answer to this question, as there is a simple formula that helps you to calculate the amount. If you want to know the precise amount of energy required by your body every day, just do the following calculation:

Daily energy requirement = 'Amount of energy required by your body' + 'Amount of energy your body requires for undertaking additional physical activities'.

Here, the amount of energy required by your body denotes the entire quantity of energy required by the body to carry out vital functions, such as pumping the heart for blood circulation, pumping the lungs to fill them with fresh air, maintaining the normal temperature of your body, facilitating the growth of hair, energy spent by the stomach to digest food and several other activities taking place in your body that you do not even realize throughout the day. These processes are known as Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is actually the minimum amount of energy required by your body irrespective of any other physical activities undertaken by you on any particular day. It may be mentioned here that the Basal Metabolic Rate is directly related to the build-up of an individual and hence, the larger you are the greater is your BMR. For instance, a woman weighing 100 pounds would require lesser amount of energy to pump her heart and breathe compared to a man who weighs around 300 pounds.

Generally, the Basal Metabolic Rate of an individual is quite stable and does not change often, unless there is any especial or abnormal condition. For instance, on an average if your body requires 1,000 calories of energy daily for the Basal Metabolic Rate, then the body will require the same amount of energy for this purpose on the subsequent days. Precisely speaking, the energy required for Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy you require to remain alive. Nevertheless, the Basal Metabolic Rate of different people is different and it depends on their sex, age and body structure and weight.

The 'amount of energy required by your body for undertaking additional physical activities' denotes the total amount of energy required by your body to do things like lifting any heavy object, walk down to a store or type on your computer and so on. Unlike the Basal Metabolic Rate, the amount of energy required by your body to undertake additional physical activities is not the amount of energy your require to remain alive, but the energy you need to perform certain activities that you choose to do for any reason. And, this amount of energy required by your body will change from day to day depending on your activities.

We all are aware that in order to lose unwanted weight and keep fit it is essential to burn or use up a little larger amount of calories that we intake every day. Now, the pertinent question is how the calories taken in by us through consumption of foods and drinks are actually burnt. In fact, the calories that we intake by means of eating or drinking different foods are burnt by way of a complex procedure whereby the food is oxidized to its fundamental elements. For instance, if we burn up sugar, it will become carbon dioxide (CO2). Conversely, when the food is burnt up inside the body, it is transformed into different types of energy.

Hence, when we consume any food, it is first stocked up as body fat or glycogen and burnt up later or whenever needed to release energy to enable the body to perform its normal activities effectively. In fact, glycogen is stored up in the liver as well as our muscles. Our body has an inclination to first burn up the stored glycogen whenever it requires energy. In such course of things, the body fat remains intact and as it accumulates increasingly, we gain more and more unwanted weight. On the other hand, individuals having more muscles mass will be able to burn up more calories. This is primarily owing to the fact that our muscle cells are more active metabolically compared to the fat cells, as the fat cells do not have enough purpose and, hence, they usually remain inactive.

As discussed earlier, different types of foods contain dissimilar quantity of calories. While one gram of protein and carbohydrate contain four calories each, every gram of fat encloses as many as nine calories. Hence, it is quite natural that if you consume more fatty foods, your body will store up more fat. In addition, since the body burns up fats later than glycogen, they keep accumulating inside the body, especially the liver. A number of people have the habit of eating a number of small meals throughout the day rather than taking three major meals. This way, these people are able to enhance the rate of their metabolism or consumption of energy or calories. When you eat more often, it also helps to control your insulin level preventing much of the insulin produced in the pancreas to change into body fat.

Therefore, what is the way by which you are able to burn up more calories and also enhance your rate of metabolism further to consume more calories biologically? The answer to this question has already been provided in the earlier paragraphs - build more muscles, eat smaller meals and eat more frequently and finally, undertake work outs to spend stored up energy. Doing all these things will help you to raise your metabolic rate and, thereby, burn up more calories naturally.

When calories get stored as fat

Each one of us requires energy for our individual Basal Metabolic Rate, as this ensures that we remain alive. Basal energy is essential for basic functioning of our body, including keeping our internal organs functional. However, when you intake excess calories through your foods, your body has little option than to store up the surplus calories as body fat. This, in turn, results in unnecessary and harmful weight gain. Describing the issue differently, the extra calories taken in by us transform into fat when they are not being used up by the body for any activity. Therefore, if you take in considerably more calories than your body's daily requirements, you are definitely going to be in a soup. Actually, when you take in 3,500 calories more than your body's energy requirements, your weight goes up by one pound! So, be careful and in order to keep fit and maintain a healthy weight, keep a track on the number of calories you are taking in every time you eat or drink something.

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