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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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Health Fact: What is a calorie?

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If you are looking for education about legal topics I have put up the "gone fishin’" sign for a few hours. A friend, Christie Bridges gave me an article on what a calorie is, and I enjoyed reading it. Ms. Bridges is a fitness Guru to many of us in Hawaii and offers more in depth information than we usually get from the fitness community. So here is her description of the noble and notorious calorie.

A calorie (actually a kilocalorie) is a unit of measure for the energy in food. First defined in France in the early 1800s, a calorie is the amount of heat (energy) needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. This is the definition used in physics, but as a measure of the energy in food, “calorie” is shorthand for kilocalorie (kcal/Calorie) or 1,000 calories and is the energy needed to raise 1,000 grams or l liter of water one degree. No wonder it takes so much work to burn up extra calories! In fact, one pound of fat has 3,500 kilocalories (or 3,500,000 calories in physics terms).

“Researchers measure calories by using a “bomb calorimeter,” a small chamber in which a food is burned to heat water; the hotter the water, the higher the calorie count. Food companies today don’t need to burn their products to figure out the calories in them—they simply add up the calories of the ingredients, based on standard databases.”

Our bodies don’t distinguish between a Calorie from a donut vs. one from an apple. Any calories that we consume over and above what we use are stored as fat. That doesn’t mean we should eat a donut instead of an apple. We want to make sure the calories we eat are as nutritious as possible. Having said that, it is helpful to know that proteins contain four calories per gram as do carbohydrates. Fats, on the other hand, contain nine calories per gram making it easier to rack up the calories if we eat lots of fatty foods. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram.

The “secret” to losing fat is simply to burn more calories than we eat—to move more and eat less. It’s not as hard as you might think. My Bodybugg, the device I wear on my arm that records the number of calories I burn, shows me that I use more calories rocking in a rocking chair than sitting in a regular chair; studies show that people who fidget burn more calories than people who sit still. My “Bugg” also shows me that I burn a lot of calories by simply walking. Since I do a lot of that, I assumed my body would find it easy. I was wrong. I burn as many calories, if not more, doing a fast walk as when I spend the same amount of time on the Stairmaster or the Elliptical machine—and walking feels a lot easier!

The average woman burns around 1,800 calories per day and the average man burns about 2,400. This varies depending on age, size, activity level and level of fitness among other things. Long story short: If you want to get rid of stored energy (calories), get your rear in gear!

I suggest reading this before heading to the store to put together the big Memorial Day barbecue spread.