The caloric balance between what is eaten and what is spent influences weight and, therefore, health, but there is more to consider when it comes to eating.

Calories arouse enormous interest because of their impact on health and figure.

The balance between the calories that are ingested and those that are expended is one of the most important nutritional balances and the body weight depends on it.

Things in this sense are, in principle, simple: if income corresponds to expenses, the weight is maintained; if the income exceeds the expenses, the weight increases; and if the income is lower than the expenses, the weight decreases.

In practice, it is possible to know if the necessary calories are being taken by the dynamics of our weight: if it is maintained over time, a sign that it is being done well. Entering calories is necessary, because the body needs energy: the millions of cells that compose it consume it incessantly.

The calories will therefore continue to be talked about. But let’s hope that the new knowledge will serve to better manage them and maintain a relationship with them less biased by aesthetic criteria, for the benefit of what really matters: health and well-being.

WHAT IS THE GLYCEMIC LOAD?

Advances in nutrition have increased the complexity of the calorie balance question.

Today it is also considered that the energy yield of the same amount of carbohydrates can vary according to the composition of the food, as this determines its availability and speed of absorption. This is what the recent concept of “glycemic load” refers to.

It also asks whether a calorie from carbohydrates is the same as a calorie from fat. The body does not manage these nutrients in the same way: dietary fat seems to accumulate more easily as fat in the body than carbohydrates.

WHAT IS THE GLYCEMIC INDEX?

The GI indicates the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed from a food. If it is high – as in white rice – blood glucose rises immediately; if it is low – legumes or whole grains – it rises gradually.

The glycemic load also considers the amount of carbohydrates in the food and the serving size.

 

HOW SHOULD CALORIC INTAKE BE DISTRIBUTED?

Energy is obtained from food, in particular from carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which they contain in different proportions.

At present it is considered that:

  • carbohydrates, whose combustion produces about 4 kilocalories per gram, must contribute 55-65% of the total calories in the diet;
  • the fats, which provide 9 kilocalories per gram, 25-30%;
  • And proteins, which produce 4 kilocalories per gram and whose main function is not energy, should contribute 10-15%.

WHY DO CARBOHYDRATES PREVAIL?

Neither protein nor fat are viable alternatives as the main source of energy.

The excess fat would limit the availability of glucose, the fuel of many cells, and endanger the supply of water – soluble micronutrients.

More protein would imply a greater supply of nitrogen, which would overload the liver and kidneys.

Calories should be covered with carbohydrates (55-60%), fat (25-30%) and protein (10-15%) and spread throughout the day. Skipping breakfast or dinner to cut calories is a mistake.

DURING THE DAY, HOW ARE THEY DISTRIBUTED?

It is usually proposed that the calories of the day are distributed as follows:

  • 20-25% of the total at breakfast
  • 40-45% in food
  • 30-35% at dinner
  • If you add 10% for a snack, you can subtract 5% for lunch and another 5% for dinner.

IS IT TRUE THAT BREAD MAKES YOU FAT?

Many studies have been disproving this food myth. Bread, along with pasta, rice and legumes, remain at the base of the food pyramids, or what is the same, starch continues to be recommended as the main source of calories in the diet.

WHAT ARE THE CALORIES SPENT ON?

Fundamentally in two main items: the basal metabolism , which requires energy to maintain the vital functions of the body at rest and whose expenditure, which depends on factors such as age and sex, cannot be controlled; and physical activity , which can be highly variable and that we can control.

ARE FEWER CALORIES REQUIRED THAN BEFORE?

Physical activity is the great variable of energy expenditure and was much more present in the lives of previous generations than in todays, where they can become very sedentary.

DOES SPORT REQUIRE TAKING IN MORE CALORIES?

Recreational exercise can help increase energy expenditure in a healthy way.

Energy expenditure depends on the frequency and intensity of exercise and can be very high in periods of intense training.

WHAT ARE “EMPTY CALORIES”?

This concept refers to foods and beverages that contain energy nutrients that provide calories but whose content in micronutrients, that is, vitamins and minerals, is low or null. Thus, they provide calories and nothing else, which discourages their regular consumption. The empty calorie prototype is sugar.

HOW CAN CALORIES BE REDUCED?

A basic strategy is to eliminate superfluous caloric foods: sugar or foods rich in it, such as soft drinks, jams, pastries, etc., alcohol and foods rich in fat, such as butter, cream, etc. Finer adjustments are obtained, for example, taking whole grains.

CAN CUTTING CALORIES BE HARMFUL?

Yes. When, taking the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a reference, the weight is normal, and especially when energy needs increase, such as in the growth stages or in pregnancy and lactation. Often aesthetic reasons lead to unjustified calorie restrictions that put health at risk.

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