What Do Calories Do to Your Body?


Calories have become a hot topic everywhere. This is especially true in regards to health and weight loss. We can either count or restrict them. However, it is evident that the public-eye views them negatively. In actuality, a calorie is just a unit of energy! It is also extremely important. It provides our bodies fuel to sustain life!

Health Functions

Our bodies use calories for every process and function. This includes things like breathing to exercising. For this reason, calories are essential for human health. The body takes the food we consume and converts it to cellular energy. This energy is measured in calories. They will be used to carry out processes in the body. Calories have essential roles in the body. Excessive or minimal calorie consumption can eventually lead to health problems. Therefore, we may use calories as a way to keep our eating habits in check.

Disease Risk Reduction

There are various diseases that are related to excessive calorie consumption. These include obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Eating too much may also increase your risk for osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and many others. Conversely, extreme calorie restriction is also not a good idea. It can lead to fatigue, nutrient deficiencies and metabolic changes. It may decrease your muscle mass, and lower your immune system.

The overall principle of managing weight is energy balance. We must make sure that the calories we consume equals the calories we burn or use. If this is unbalanced, we may see changes in our weight. For example, if you eat more calories than you expend, you may expect to see weight gain. 

If you eat more calories than you expend, you may expect to see weight gain. 

Conversely, if the calories burned are greater than the calories consumed, weight loss may occur. However, there are additional factors too. They contribute to the extent of changes in your weight status. That is why it is important to understand the recommended amount of calories your body needs. This is critical if you want to manage your weight.

Weight management may be utilized by people classified as overweight or obese. This is tied to managing their caloric intake per day. It is important to have healthy and nutrient-packed sources of calories. We recommend balancing a healthy diet with adequate physical activity. We also advise limiting our “empty calories.” These are foods that are calorically dense, but have minimal nutritional value. In other words, they are high calorie foods with little to no nutrients. Non-diet soft drinks, processed junk food, and refined sugars are all examples of “empty calories.” These foods add to our calorie intake per day. However it does not provide any additional benefits to our body besides energy. Additionally, the energy that these nutrient-poor foods provide is quickly used. Therefore, it will not not provide us sustained energy throughout the day. Nutrient-dense sources of calories are recommended! This is especially true for individuals trying to manage their weight.

Similarly, individuals trying to increase their caloric intake per day must take similar advice. They should also look to nutrient-dense foods as sources of calories. Additionally, these individuals should increase their intake of macronutrients. These include your carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Healthy fats found in avocados, fish, nuts and seeds are great sources of nutrients. They are also calorically dense foods. High protein foods can also be high in calories;they will be able to provide sustained energy throughout your day. Complex carbohydrates are also recommended as a source of sustained energy. They will not spike blood sugar or your energy. This is contrary to what empty-calories or refined carbohydrates would do. We recommend trying out dates! These are a type of fruit. They have been shown to keep blood sugar levels consistent. In addition, they may help manage diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and so much more.

Other than those mentioned above, there are other things to consider. It is important to be mindful of where your calories come from. For example, do you drink a large percentage of your calories? Are most of your calories eaten at night after dinner? Are you skipping meals? These are important questions to ask yourself when considering weight management.

Groups at Risk

Risk factors for weight-related health conditions vary based on age and weight. Your gender and health history must be taken into account too. Other than these, we also have genetics, environmental factors, and many others.

According to the CDC, non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6%) have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity. This is followed by Hispanic adults (44.8%) and non-Hispanic White adults (42.2%). The lowest prevalence is in non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4%).

Intake Recommendations

Caloric intake recommendations are based on a variety of factors. This includes your age, height, weight, and gender. We must also consider your current physical activity level and health status.

Calorie recommendations for adult women are between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. For men, the estimates range from 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. This depends on your level of physical activity within your lifestyle. Therefore, our calorie needs may vary within these ranges. If you are a highly active individual, your calorie needs may fall at the high end of the range. Meanwhile, a sedentary individual would need less calories in a day. Therefore, their needs may fall at the lower end of the range.

These charts below provide a rough estimate for calories needed per day. This is based on age and physical activity levels.

Women

Age

Sedentary

Moderately Active

Active

19-30

1,800-2,000

2,000-2,200

2,400

31-50

1,800

2,000

2,200

51+

1,600

1,800

2,000-2,200

Men

Age

Sedentary

Moderately Active

Active

19-30

2,400-2,600

2,600-2,800

3,000

31-50

2,200-2,400

2,400-2,600

2,800-3,000

51+

2,000-2,200

2,200-2,400

2,400-2,800

There are ways to meet your calories needs. You can do this while maintaining a healthy weight status. We recommend eating nutrient-dense foods. Plant-based or whole foods contain numerous nutrients beyond calories. They also have vitamins and minerals that are essential for our bodies. Fruits, vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, and dairy are great sources of nutrient-dense foods. They also provide adequate calories. our bodies. Fruits, vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, and dairy are great sources of nutrient-dense foods. They also provide adequate calories.

Conclusion

Calories are essential for fueling our bodies. We also need them to sustain a happy and healthy life. Understanding your calories needs can be difficult and complex. This is why we recommend talking to a Registered Dietitian. They will  be able to assess your nutrient needs. Additionally, resources like MyPlate can help you devise a meal plan. This will help you reach your nutrition goals!

Written by:

Allison Tallman, MS, RDN, CNSC

Registered Dietitian

Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian
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