There is so much information about nutrition out there that things can get very confusing. It seems like everyday there is a new diet being advertsied as the miracle cure to your weight and health issues. However, more often than not there is also someone or some company behind that diet trying to make money. In these next few articles I want to teach you about the absolute basics of nutrition, starting with what our food is made up with. By understanding the three critical components of our food I hope that I can teach you how to eat in way that will help you naturally gravitate towards the healthiest foods, with positive impacts on your health and waistline.
This series of articles is a guide to what makes up our food and is designed to help you understand some of the terms and references that are used in a lot of nutrition related discussion. Once you’ve got a solid grasp on these principles then navigating future health and diet literature should be much easier!
Need to Know #1
All food is made up of the following
Calories: the energy contained in the food
Macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein or fat
Micronutrients: extra vitamins and minerals
This article and the two follow up explore each of these three components in detail.
Need to Know #2: Calories
What is a calorie?
Calorie has to be one of the biggest buzz words in any diet and weight loss discussion. However, our metabolisms are not as simple as one number in and one number out. In this article learn why how obsessing over calories is not going to help you achieve your goals.
A calorie is simply the unit of heat used to measure how much energy a food will produce in the human body. We all require calories to live and breath and it is food that provides these.
You may also have heard of kilojoules. This is just the metric unit of calories. There are 4.2kj in one calorie.
All packaged food labels include a nutritional informational panel which includes the number of calories or kilojoules present in food. This is intended to help people make ‘responsible choices.’ While it is useful to know how much sugar, salt and certain types of fat are in some foods, if we simply read the number of calories in a food and don’t look at anything else we aren’t actually learning much about the product. This is because the number of calories contained in carbohydrates versus fat for example differs dramatically. Therefore something that is rich in good quality, natural fats will have significantly more calories than something that is pure sugar. By looking at the calories in a food we will opt for foods lower in calories but also lacking in any other nutritional value.
Calories and weight
To maintain your body weight you need to consume around the right number of calories to fulfill your body’s needs each day. Each of us have a basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the base level of energy required just to maintain our body’s various functions. This differs based on gender, height, age and muscle mass. A twenty-something year old fit, tall man is going to have a much higher BMR than a shorter, older woman.
If we do some exercise or happen to be particularly cold then we will require more calories on top of our BMR. However, exercise doesn’t actually burn that many calories in comparison to what our bodies need just to survive. That is why diet is a far more effective means of weight control.
Exercise is fantastic for a number of reasons including slightly bumping up your metabolic rate during and post workout. But if you’re pounding the treadmill or spending hours on the cross-trainer with the intention of burning calories you might want to think again. If we seek to build muscle mass (yes, weight training ladies) and keep generally fit then we will help keep our BMR up and our bodies working effectively to use up the energy that we consume.
Calories in and calories out, our bodies aren’t that simple
It is still true that if you consume too many calories for your body’s needs over a long period of time then your weight will increase. If you consume to few then you will lose some weight. However, this is not as black and white as we once thought. Your body is more complex than a simple mathematics equation.
The traditional diet mentality was that if you just cut your calories you will lose weight. This has led to many people counting calories, stressing if we go over the limit for the day. It has also allowed food manufacturers to produce lots of low-calorie or ‘calorie controlled’ foods. They can add as much other junk as they like, as long as it only contains 100 calories!
It’s not as simple as balancing calories in and calories out. Hormones play a vital role in metabolic function.
It is time to think again when it comes to weight, because managing our health is far more complex than just a simple mathematics equation of calories in and calories out. It is hormones that control our appetite and weight as we will explore further in a subsequent blog posts.
In the next article in this what you need to know about food we look at macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat in more detail.