www.whyville.net Jan 4, 2009 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

Clarifying Calories

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Do you ever look at the nutrition labels on things you buy in the grocery store? What about that snack you're about to buy in the vending machine? Do you know how many calories you ate for breakfast? Do you have any idea what I am talking about or are you completely lost? If you are lost - don't worry my friend! I'm here to set things straight about calories.

Nutrition labels are mandatory on prepackaged foods in many countries nowadays, including Canada, the US and the European Union. Nutrition labels are perhaps a better indicator of what foods to buy than the food with the fanciest packaging or the catchiest slogans because they serve as an indicator of how healthy the food is. Now, nutrition labels contain a lot of information that can vary from country to country but one of the first pieces of information listed on the nutrition facts table are the number of calories in a single serving of that food.

Okay. Nutrition labels contain calories - we've got that. But what are calories, exactly? Let's start by consulting the dictionary: it says, "a unit of heat equal to the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree at one atmosphere pressure; used by nutritionists to characterize the energy-producing potential in food." At first this definition might seem a bit complicated and more than a little scientific. What's important to take out this definition, for the purposes of our discussion today, is that a calorie is a unit of heat that indicates how much energy a food can provide for us. Kapeesh? It's also helpful to know that calories are a good indicator of a food's healthiness, since a single gram of carbohydrates or protein contains only 4 calories, while a gram of fat contains more than double it's counterparts at 9 calories, so naturally, high fat foods tend to be higher in calories.

So far we've got that foods contain nutrition labels which indicate calories which indicate how much energy a particular food contains. So what? Well, energy that you eat but never used is stored in the body as fat - in the most simplistic terms, 3500 extra calories result in a pound of fat. If you've heard any news about what the media has termed "an obesity epidemic", it should be apparent now that too many people are eating too many calories! In New York, lawmakers have created a law to display nutrition information in chain restaurants - because, after all, it's easier to eat too many calories when you don't know how many you're eating to begin with. But will this law help reduce obesity levels? Consider the results of one study, which found that even when US consumers looked at the number of calories in a serving size, they didn't know what they should be looking for! If you're one of those people, don't worry because there are answers out there!

In order to use nutrition labels to your advantage, you need to know how many calories you should be eating each day to begin with, and there is no straightforward answer. Your body needs a certain number of calories just to operate each day, and eating too few can be as harmful as eating too many, but how many YOU need depends on who YOU are. Are you a boy or a girl? What is your weight - and do you want it to stay the same? What is your height? What is your age? How active is your lifestyle? All of these factors influence your calorie requirement. Generally, men require more calories in a day than women, and active people need more energy than sedentary people. The information on nutrition labels is a 2 000 daily calorie intake - this is the average amount of calories people need.

So. You're armed and ready to face the grocery store, right? Let's check to make sure by checking something in the pantry. I have a can of Heinz Disney Princess Spaghetti-o's in my pantry that I'm considering having for dinner. When I check the nutrition facts I find that at the very top it tells that a 3/4 cup serving contains 170 calories. That means if I eat a serving that is about the size of a hockey puck I will have eaten about 170 calories which seems like a very small portion of a 2 000 calorie diet. If I ate the whole can by myself (2 serving sizes) I would be eating 340 calories which seems like a reasonable dent in the daily calorie count. But what if I decided to go to McDonald's instead? A Large Coke, a cheeseburger and large fries would satisfy nearly half of my nutrition needs for the day and I'd still want breakfast, lunch and a snack!

There you have it: the truth about calories. The next time you go to the grocery store check out the labels on your favourite foods - I bet you'll find some surprises on your favourite foods!

Breakfast is the best meal of the day.

Author's Note: Sources:


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