Calories indicate how much energy a food contains. Our requirement depends on various factors – for example, physical activity. Here you can find out how to slightly increase your calorie consumption. And whether counting calories makes sense.
A calorie is an old unit for measuring energy, i.e. the thermal energy. A thousand calories is equivalent to one kilocalorie. A kilocalorie is the energy required to heat one litre of water from 14.5 to 15.5 degrees Celsius. The energy that we take in with our food is also defined in kilocalories. And the energy that our bodies need to perform all its functions.
Good to know: the internationally recognised energy unit is actually a joule (J) or kilojoule (kJ). However, the calorific value of food is given in both units: kilojoules and kilocalories.
If you contrast your calorie consumption with your calorie intake, you get the calorie balance. If you consume more calories than you burn, you have a positive balance. This results in a calorie surplus. That in turn leads to weight gain. Conversely, if you have a negative balance – in other words a calorie deficit – you will lose weight.
Calorie consumption is individual: it depends on factors, such as age, sex, muscle mass and physical activity. For example, you can calculate your approximate calorie consumption with the Swiss Society for Nutrition (Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Ernährung) calorie calculator.
You can easily increase your energy consumption with an active lifestyle. For example, ensure that you walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. The following tips will help you:
P.S.: Muscle mass burns almost three times as much energy as fat tissue, even at rest.
The nutrition table on all food packaging shows the calories (kcal) per 100 g and serving. You can also find the amount of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fat, protein and salt. The nutrition table also shows how high the proportion of calories is in relation to the average daily requirement of 2,000 kcal.
Foods such as meat, nuts, vegetable oils, avocado, butter, high-fat dairy products, dried fruit, fruit juices, pasta, rice, muesli and legumes have a medium to high energy density.
Conversely, fruit, vegetables, lean meat and low-fat dairy products have a lower energy density. They often also contain less fat.
Empty calories are mainly found in sweet drinks, alcohol, desserts, salty snacks and fast food.
You can also find detailed nutritional information on various foods, for example, in the Swiss Food Composition Database (Schweizer Nährwertdatenbank).
In the Helsana Coach app, you’ll find exciting content on nutrition, exercise and mindfulness. For example in the “Saving Calories Made Easy” unit, you’ll discover how you can easily cut calories in everyday life – without having to give anything up.
Counting calories is useful when you want to get an accurate sense of the energy you’re consuming. This can be important when you start to change your diet or if you feel that you are not gaining or losing weight, even though you think you’re already doing enough to achieve this. Generally, however, you don’t need to make an effort at calorie counting if you eat a balanced diet.
Counting calories comes with several challenges:
Calorie counting can also lead to compulsive eating, or in the worst case, to an eating disorder. The joy in eating is diminished because the focus is only on the number of calories. Individual foods are quickly judged as bad or even forbidden. This is not good for either physical or mental well-being. It is therefore better to eat intuitively. In other words, listen more to your body’s own feelings of hunger and fullness. And pay attention to what your body needs or what you feel like eating.
David Fäh lectures and conducts research at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, School of Health Professions, Specialist Area Nutrition and Dietetics. He provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article.