You may have heard the word calories thrown around here or there, and there is a lot of talk about them as it pertains to food, nutrition, and weight loss. Maybe you’ve even had someone explain it to you, which left you more confused than before you asked. I want to explain what a calorie is, where they come from, and what they mean to you.

Calories are a unit of measurement for energy, and they measure the amount of energy used to perform a task.

Specifically, it takes one calorie of energy to heat 1 gram of water at 1 degree Celsius. Obviously, our bodies don’t care about how much energy it takes to heat 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius, but our bodies do care about the energy used to produce their functions to live.

Regarding nutrition, the word calorie is used for two things: the energy we consume from our food and the energy our body uses to stay alive.

Calories in refers to the calories we eat, and calories out refers to the calories we use.

For our bodies, calories are the measurement unit we use to perform a task. We burn calories all day and night long. Sleeping, breathing, reading, and even eating burns calories. Several factors contribute to the amount of calories we need, such as; gender, age, height, weight, health status, and fitness level. A young male bodybuilder, six and a half foot tall, will require more calories than a petite, sedentary elderly female. This is similar to how much gasoline is needed to run a giant semi-truck compared to a small, 2-door economy car; the amount of calories needed varies per person.

Food also contains calories. Food is broken down through several metabolic processes to give us the energy (calories) we need when we eat food. The number of calories within foods varies. Celery is commonly known as a low-calorie food with only 14 calories in 1 cup. In contrast, 1 cup of olive oil is 1,910 calories. I pray you are not drinking olive oil in such quantities, but you see the point. Every food item has calories, and the properties of that food determine how many calories it will provide you.

Managing your weight through tracking calories in and out is a topic for another blog or an entire series of blogs. Also, knowing how many calories are right for you should be covered in future blogs.

Here is the simplest way to remember what a calorie is.

Calories are a measurement of energy we get from food and the measure of energy our bodies use to function.