A calorie is basically a unit of energy. All foods, whether fats, proteins, sugars, or carbs, are sources of calories which your body needs to function. The total number of calories you need each day depends on your level of activity and your resting metabolic rate; however health experts recommend 1,500 calories for men and 1,200 for women to provide the right balance of nutrients and macro-nutrients.
What calories should I eat?
There’s conventional wisdom that 40-65% of our calories should come from carbohydrates, 20-25% should come from fat, and 10-35% should come from protein. Children require more fat in their calories (25-40%) however the total number of calories we get from sugar should not exceed 25%.
But when we look beyond these generalized guidelines, the amount of macro-nutrients you need will largely depend on your activity level. If you’re an athlete, then you’re going to need more macro-nutrients than the average person who spends most of his time sitting. Food preferences are also important; for instance, if you love bread then a low carb diet wouldn’t work for you.
What are high calorie foods?
Foods that are calorie-dense have a significantly high amount of calories relative to their serving size. Foods like oils, butter, avocado, fries, and sugary drinks are loaded with calories. It’s important to note that high-calorie foods can be nutritious as well, although they are mostly associated with junk food.†
The healthiest high-calorie foods include nuts (one cup of peanuts has 828 calories), avocado (227 calories), quinoa (222 calories), olive oil (119 calories per tablespoon), whole grains, and dark chocolate. Other high-calorie foods that are recommended include raisins, grapes, and dried fruits (which are a common source of calories for hikers).†
Low calorie foods
Low-calorie foods are foods that have low amounts of calories relative to their serving size (think fruits and veggies). For example, one large stalk of celery only has 10 calories, and 2 cups of shredded spinach or romaine lettuce only adds up to 16 calories. One medium-sized orange has 70 calories and 1 cup of broccoli has about 15 calories.
Empty calories have little-to-no nutrient value, and they usually come in the form of solid fats and added sugar. Solid fats are fats that solidify at room temperature, and this includes shortening fats and butter. Foods like pizza, cheese, soda, ice cream, and hot dogs, contain high amounts of empty calories – although some of these foods (like pizza and cheese) also have nutrients.†
Calories and weight loss
So does it matter what types of calories you eat when trying to lose weight? It absolutely does. It is recommended that you consume mostly healthy calories (over 80%) and more if you want to lose weight efficiently. Remember, calories are expended through physical activity – and sustaining high-intensity workouts burns hundreds of calories. When people want to lose weight, they create a caloric deficit, meaning they burn more calories than they consume.†
But even if you have a caloric deficit you still need to consume enough calories to function and stay healthy. The best low-calorie diets are ones that provide 1,200 and 1,600 calories for men, and 1,000 to 1,200 calories for women. These numbers can be adjusted to accommodate different ages, weight, and activity level.†
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