Energy is the ability to do work. It is measured in kilocalories (kcal) or simply calories. The body uses energy even when at rest or asleep as it fuels heart beating, breathing and other involuntary activities. More is spent when we move around and as activities become more intense or prolonged. We derive energy from almost every food and drink consumed. Water, pure tea or coffee and calamansi are among few beverages that do not contain any calorie.
The total kilocalories derived from a food depends on the kind of food eaten particularly on their carbohydrate, protein and fat content. These are three of six nutrients we need daily that provide energy. The remaining nutrients namely water, vitamins and minerals and non-nutrients like fiber, all of which may also be derived from a certain food, are beneficial to health but do not provide energy. Note that water is both a beverage as well as a nutrient.
If there are no problems in digestion, absorption, circulation and utilization of nutrients in the body, each gram of carbohydrate and protein will give us 4 kilocalories but one gram of fat generate 9 kilocalories. While food and drinks differ in calorie content, they can be compared on a per serving basis. One serving of rice or its alternative which is equivalent to one-half cup packed or two slices of regular-size loaf bread or 3 pcs of regular-size pan de sal provides 100 kcal. One serving (1/2 cup) of vegetables provides 16 kcal. One serving of fruit which vary in quantities like one piece lakatan, 3 tablespoons fruit cocktail, 1 regular slice of papaya/pineapple/melon, provides 40 kcal. One teaspoon of table sugar or honey provides 20 kcal. The same amount of cooking oil provides 45 kcal. For meat including chicken, eggs, dried beans, fish, the kilocalorie content depend on their fat content. One serving equivalent to one matchbox of lean, medium-fat meat like porkchop or a medium-sized egg, and high fat meat like bacon, provide 41, 86 and 122 kcal, respectively.
There is a recommended level of kilocalories every person should consume depending on many factors like age, sex, weight, height, activity, illness, pregnancy. If daily consumption exceeds more than what is needed, the excess calories are deposited inside the body. Over time, there will be gain in weight. For every 3,500 kcal excess calories accumulated, body weight is increased by one pound which is almost half a kilo. On the contrary, when less energy is obtained by the body such as during hunger, famine, loss of appetite, fasting or when on low-calorie diet, a state of energy deficit occurs and the body uses some of its stored energy. Over an extended period of time, weight is decreased. To effectively effect weight reduction then, create a state of energy deficit but with due regard to an individual’s peculiarities, short and long term health effects. Eat more of foods lower in calorie content e.g. fruits, vegetables. Avoid sugary drinks. Reduce intake of fried and fatty foods. Skipping dinner may help but don’t skip breakfast. Caution however for growing children and certain conditions like diabetics who need small but frequent meals at regular intervals. Weight reduction during pregnancy and very low calorie diets are not advised.
Be physically active always so as to spend more energy and a regular exercise regimen is recommended. After all, it is the total energy consumed and used at the end of the day that counts. Also, long term behavior modification and healthy lifestyle matter.
By Imelda O. Degay