I know, I know, so much jargon thrown around! And it can be super confusing when you are just trying to figure out what the hell you should actually be eating! So, let’s break it down.
And hopefully make things a little less scary!
Whenever I used to think of calories I used to panic. A hot dread rose inside me because they are bad right?! That’s what diet culture told me anyways.
Do you actually know what a calorie is? Ok, I’ll help!
Calories are a unit of measurement that allow us to determine the amount of energy in a food. We need energy to live.
A calorie is the amount of heat it takes for 1g of water to be heated by 1’C. We measure the calories in food using a bomb calorimeter. It’s basically a clever machine, you don’t really need to know about that but maybe it will pop up in a pub trivia quiz one day and you can thank me then.
Tracking food intake (and calories in particular) can be a useful tool for some people (not everyone) but it will never be an exact science. Don’t sweat that you went over your calories by 20 because actually it isn’t that precise. It is more of a guide than an exact measurement. For example, food labels are legally allowed a 20% margin of error. So it can give us an estimate of the amount of energy (calories) a food contains but essentially, all those times you have been worrying about measuring every exact calorie you consume, it’s been a little obsessive.
Another point to note is the rate at which your body metabolises that energy and how many of the nutrients your body takes vs how much it leaves behind is all very individualised.
So if you are someone who enjoys tracking or wants to do it for education, go right ahead, but be aware that going over or under your calorie target by 1-200 really isn’t a big deal.
It’s also important to note that one day of calorie consumption really doesn’t give us an overall picture, it is the long term, consistent habits we need to focus on. So perhaps the calories over a whole week or month would be more beneficial data than those in a single day. Stick at it for 2-3 weeks, see what happens and adjust as necessary. Patience is the absolute key in both weight loss and gain.
Macros is an abbreviation of macronutrients. As the name suggests, we need these in larger quantities (than micronutrients) for our bodies to work well. The three main macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrate.
All 3 are extremely important for the human body to function.
The amount you personally need will vary depending on height, weight, age and a number of other factors including how you feel on higher/lower carbs/fats.
Macros make up your calories so if you are tracking your macros you will also be automatically tracking your calories too (but you could be tracking your calories without your macros)
Protein = 4 kcal per gram
Carbs = 4 kcal per gram
Fats = 9 kcal per gram
So if you ate 100g protein you would be consuming 400 calories and if you ate 100g of fat it would be 900 calories.
Protein is needed for cell and tissue growth, regulation of DNA and immune function and can be found in products such as chicken and turkey, dairy products, tofu and eggs.
Carbohydrate is broken down into glucose and is the body’s favourite energy source. You can find it in fruits and veggies, rice, pasta, bread and oats.
Fat also has an essential role to play in the body. It is also a source of energy, and of essential fatty acids which the body can not make itself. It
also helps the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D and E. Fat can be found in butter, cheese, avocado, oils and nuts.
Micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals (including fibre – which is extremely important, more on that shortly)
We need these for our bodies to work well but in smaller quantities than the macronutrients.
Fibre however is needed in a slightly larger amount with the recommended daily allowance being 30g per day. The average person in the UK consumes around 18g per day so there is lots of room for improvement here! You can get fibre from wholegrains, oats, fruits, veggies and pulses. It is so important as it helps support healthy digestion, contributes to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduces risk of bowel cancer, increases food volume and helps with feelings of fullness.
Micronutrients must be obtained from food for the most part and although they are needed in smaller quantities, they are hugely beneficial. To ensure you are getting your micronutrients eat a varied diet with plenty of colour including all of the foods already mentioned previously.
Hopefully that’s helped to clear things up a little. Remember your body is your home and needs energy to keep you doing all the things you love. Try to be mindful of eating a varied diet where possible without restricting any food group to help keep your body happy.