How to Work Out Calories From Food Labels

By Alba Charles . Updated: October 16, 2020
How to Work Out Calories From Food Labels

Food labels contain many information about the food we're consuming. Nowadays, with the growing interest for healthy diets and balanced lifestyles, many people are looking at the food they buy in a different way. But, regardless of all the information we see on the labels, not many people know what it exactly means.

Calories are one of the things we find on food labels. On every food, packaged or not, we'll find an indication of how many calories it has. We're often concerned about calories on foods. How many calories does this bag of chips have? How many calories does this cookie have? However, reading calories on food labels is a little bit more complicated than just reading the number that appears on the package. There are many things that need to be considered if you want to truly understand what those calories mean. Does more calories mean less healthy? If you want to follow a balanced lifestyle and understand what you're consuming, it is important to know how to read calories on food labels.

You may also be interested in: How to Count Your Calories Intake

What is a calorie

A calorie is a unit of energy, used to keep track of the energy we need to correctly function. This energy is stored in foods and we extract it through digestion. It is important to keep balance between the energy we ingest and the energy we spend doing body exercise. If the amount of calories we ingest is higher than the ones we spend, these calories can turn into fat. On the contrary, if we spend more calories than we ingest, we lose weight.

Different types of calories

There are two different types of calories. Large Calories, written with a capital C, and small calories, written with a small c. The calories we see on food labels are large Calories, always indicated with a capital c. One of these large Calories equals 1,000 small calories, and it is the amount of energy it would take to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

In our diets there are three nutrients that mainly provide us with calories: fats, carbohydrates and protein. Each of these nutrients contain different amounts of Calories per gram:

  • Fat: 9 Calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates: 4 Calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 Calories per gram

The energy these foods contain is released during digestion and it's used in the following proportions:

  • 10% for digestion
  • 20% for physical exercise
  • 70% for basic body needs

Therefore, what burns more energy is not exercise but basic body functions.

How many calories do we need?

As previously said, it is important to keep a balance between the calories you're ingesting and the energy you're spending daily. If you ingest more calories than the energy you burn, you'll end up gaining weight. If, on the contrary, you ingest less calories, you'll lose weight. But the amount of calories you need varies with everyone. The recommended amount is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men, but this quantity varies depending on the amount of exercise you do. For instance, someone who works at an office and just walks 30 minutes during the day won't need as much energy as someone who cycles to work and then goes running for one hour in the evenings. Also, age is important when considering calorie intake.

Finding out the amount of calories you need is a complicated task. If you're planning on losing weight, it is recommended that you visit a doctor or a nutritionist so he/she can make a personalized diet for your needs.

How to Work Out Calories From Food Labels - How many calories do we need?

What are Calories on food labels

Let's take the average amount of calories a women needs daily. If that woman doesn't want to lose nor gain weight, she should consume 2,000 Calories per day. How does she know that? She goes to the supermarket and checks the nutrition labels from all the foods she buys. Then, at home, prepares meals depending on how many Calories there are on each of the foods. Is this right? NO. And why not?

The information about calories that can be found on food labels does not refer to our body. The number indicated next to "Calories" on a food label actually states how many calories that food has, not what your body takes out of it as energy.

The system used now to count Calories on foods is the Atwater System. This system measures how much energy a food has, not the digestibility. Therefore, food labels indicate how many calories that food has, but that number is not what your body will actually convert as energy. Counting calories as if it was an addition is not an accurate method. Besides, other factors such as cooking food or eating it raw will change how many calories are digestible.

The amount of calories your body is receiving depends on too many things for the labels to be truly accurate.

How to Work Out Calories From Food Labels - What are Calories on food labels

How to read Calories on food labels

As mentioned above, the information regarding the amount of Calories on a food is not appropriate. The method for determining the number of Calories on foods is old-fashioned and it doesn't truly measure how the body is going to take those Calories.

It is important that you check nutrition labels if you want to know more about the food you're consuming, but you shouldn't obsess too much about it. Counting Calories might not be a healthy habit nor accurate. If your plan is to lose weight or simply have a better and more balanced diet, you should visit a nutritionist that can create a plan specifically for you.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Work Out Calories From Food Labels, we recommend you visit our Healthy living category.

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