C/o Shape Magazine author. Slightly Tweaked by ME but i loved the article so I thought i would share it with all of you <3
Calories get a bad rap. We blame them for everything -- from making us feel guilty about enjoying a hot fudge sundae with extra nuts to the way our jeans fit (or don't fit, as the case may be).
Yet, demonizing calories is like bad-mouthing oxygen: It's impossible to survive very long without either one. Calories fuel the body. There's nothing bad or magical about calories, it's just that body weight comes down to a simple equation of calories in (from food) versus calories out (as physical activity).
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a measurement or unit of energy; calories in the foods you eat are a measure of the number of energy units that food supplies. Those energy units are then used by the body to fuel physical activity as well as all metabolic processes, from maintaining your heartbeat and growing hair to healing a scraped knee and building muscle. However, when you don't use the calories you've consumed, those calories get shuttled to your liver to refill your glycogen stores.
What is Glycogen?
Glycogen is your body's quick, easy-access energy reserve. Your ability to store it means you don't have to eat continuously to keep your body revved up. Still, it gets depleted every three to four hours. When the liver is holding as much glycogen as it can, some of it is passed on to muscles for short-term storage (to be used as needed ).
What causes fat?
Between your liver and muscles, you have a ready supply of calories (roughly 300 to 400, depending on your weight and metabolism) that you can access as necessary throughout the day. When you eat more than you can save in these temporary "accounts," the calories get converted to fat and distributed throughout your body.
Which food sources have calories?
Only four components of food supply calories: protein and carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), alcohol (7 calories per gram) and fat (9 calories per gram). Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (natural chemicals found in plants), fiber and water do not supply calories.
Calculating Caloric Intake
Cutting Calories for Weight Loss
Women should not consume less than 1,200 calories a day. In fact, a diet below 1,000 calories a day (called a very low-calorie diet or VLCD) increases your risk for gallstones and heart problems and should be followed only by obese people under a doctor's supervision. While you can drop to 1,200 calories per day and survive, doing so is not a smart idea. Going for a bare-minimum caloric intake may yield quick results, but it also can leave you listless and unable to exercise (key to keeping the pounds off), and may lead to muscle loss and a slowing of your metabolism. Even if you're careful about what you eat, a daily intake of 1,200 calories can shortchange you on important nutrients such as calcium and folate.
Your best bet for success: a moderate calorie cut (for example: cutting 100 calories from your daily diet and adding 100 calories in exercise). That way you'll stay healthy and still have energy for an active lifestyle.
Empty vs. Hidden Calories
The term "empty calories" describes foods that offer little or no nutritional value. For example, for 112 calories, an 8-ounce glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice offers potassium and supplies 100 percent of your daily need for vitamin C, while the same amount of orange soda has 120 calories and is completely devoid of nutrients. The soda delivers empty calories; the OJ does not. In general, the more a food is processed, the lower its number of vitamins, minerals, fiber and cancer-fighting agents (phytochemicals), and the higher its content of fat, sugar and empty calories.
You can roughly estimate your caloric intake by using this formula: If you are age 30 or under, multiply your weight by 6.7 and add 487; women who are 31-60 should multiply their weight by 4 and add 829. Then, multiply the total by 1.3 if you're sedentary (don't work out at all), 1.5 if you're slightly active (work out three to four times a week for one hour), 1.6 if you're moderately active (work out four to five times a week for one hour) or 1.9 if you're very active (work out almost every day for one hour).
In contrast, "hidden calories" can be found in all types of foods. These are the calories that sneak into your diet quietly, such as from the butter added to vegetables in a restaurant kitchen. Request that food you're served at restaurants be steamed, baked or broiled dry. To avoid hidden calories at home, always check the nutrition label on packaged foods.