Health Hint! – Basics of Calories & Nutrients

May 26, 2021

Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness.  We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life.  Check out our latest Health Hint on receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness.  We hope you find it helpful.  If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities. 

Many of us are taking advantage of the extra time at home during lockdown and are focusing on improving our health.  For you, that might include increasing your exercise, building muscle, losing weight, or any number of other health goals.  There are several factors that heavily influence our overall health, including sleep, hydration, stress, diet, and exercise.  Check out our other blog posts for helpful information and tips on sleep, stress, hydration and exercise.  Today we are going to focus on diet, more specifically, calories and nutrients.

What are Calories

We hear a lot of talk about calories or “macros”, but many people don’t have a great understanding of what they are and what they do for our bodies, minds, and health.  We often hear of calories in reference to weight loss and trying to “cut calories”, but calories are so much more than that.  They are incredibly important for our everyday functioning, energy levels, and physical performance. 

So, what exactly is a calorie?  Calories are energy, in the form of heat, that enable our bodies to function.  The energy we receive from the calories in food allows our bodies to sustain life and stay healthy.  Everything we do in the day relies on calories, whether that is breathing, brushing your teeth, doing a workout, or sitting on the couch (Scott, 2021).  Even when it feels like you are relaxing and not doing much, your body is still using calories to perform its basic, internal functions. 

So, this might make it sound like the more calories, the better right?  The more energy I can take in, the more I can get done!  Well, it doesn’t exactly work that way.  Your body only needs a certain number of calories to perform it’s required tasks.  This amount varies widely from person to person and is impacted by several factors, such as age, weight, height, genetics, lifestyle, and so on.  If you take in more calories than your body needs than these excess calories will be stored as fat and will cause you to gain weight (Scott, 2021). In contrast, if you take into few calories, your body will shed fat, but it also might not get enough calories to perform important functions.  So, it is a delicate balance to determine the right number of calories for you that allows you to feel energized, accomplish tasks throughout the day, and maintain a healthy body weight.  There are several free, easily accessible calorie calculators online that can help you figure out your specific calorie needs.

The next important thing to know about calories is that not all calories are equal.  There are things called nutrients in our food, both macro nutrients and micronutrients, and the nutrient makeup of the food you eat impacts what your body does with those calories. 

Macronutrients

The first important type of nutrients your body requires are macronutrients, which include protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  Your body needs an appropriate balance of all three of these macronutrients, and like calories, consuming too few or too many of any one macronutrient can lead to complications.  As with all thing’s nutrition, balance is key!

Protein provides the body with fuel and is one of the primary building blocks of the body.  Protein breaks down into amino acids which function to build and maintain muscles, make essential hormones, support vital immune functions, and repair and grow body tissue.  Adequate protein intake also contributes to feelings of satiety and reduced hunger (Allen, 2021).

Fat supplies energy and aids in vitamin absorption.  Fat, like protein, also contributed to muscle development and growth (Allen, 2021).  Fats are also key for long-lasting satiety. A balanced meal, that includes healthy fats, will keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer. 

Carbohydrates are a key fuel for the brain and muscles.  The body stores carbohydrates in the muscles and liver and then uses these stores for energy provision.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are the other major groups of nutrients your body needs to function, and these include vitamins and minerals.  When eating a diet of whole foods, you will be taking in several different vitamins and minerals that help sustain your internal systems.  Vitamins are essential to produce energy, maintaining strong immunity levels, blood flow, and many others.  And minerals are key for maintaining strong bones, growth, fluid balance and more (Streit, 2018).

In order to feel your best, have adequate energy to perform your daily tasks, maintain a healthy body composition, and engage in your activities of choice, you need an adequate number of calories, with an appointment balance of macro and micronutrients. 

We hope you liked out latest Health Hint!

References:

Allen, S. (2021). Nutrition and Macros. Train with Soph. https://www.trainwithsoph.com/blogs/nutrition

Scott, J.R. (2021). What is a calorie?. Very Well Fit. https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-a-calorie-and-why-should-i-care-3496238

Streit, L. (2018). Micronutrients: Types, functions, benefits and more. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/micronutrients

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