Nutrition 101: Your Quick Guide to Good and Bad Calories

almonds and gummy bears

Whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight, it’s all a question of your calorie intake. The question is are all calories created equal?

What is a calorie actually?

Calories are the physical units for measuring heat and energy. The nutritional energy contained in fat, protein and carbohydrates is expressed in kilocalories (kcal or Cal) and makes up your daily caloric intake. Our bodies need the energy provided by these three macronutrients in order to function properly.

Calorie intake is key

The formula is simple: if you consume fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. In order to burn 1 kg (2.2 lb) of fat, you need to burn about 7,000 Cal. What if you consume more calories than you burn? The consequence is weight gain. In this case, the ratio of carbs, protein and fat in your daily caloric intake is irrelevant. Those ratios do, however, determine how you feel, or if you’ll be fighting with cravings two hours after mealtime.

Jemand trackt sein Essen mit der Runtastic Balance App

Good vs. bad calories

Imagine for a moment if you nourished yourself only with pure sugar. If you didn’t consume more calories in sugar than you expended, your weight would remain the same. What would happen to your body though? First, you’d be suffering from some significant nutrient deficits, and therefore your body would not be able to maintain proper functioning. After all, sucrose doesn’t actually provide you with any valuable nutrients. The effects aren’t only noticeable in your general health, but also in the appearance of your skin and the functioning of your immune system.

Don’t forget: (healthy) food consists of much more than just calories. More importantly, they provide us with vitamins, minerals and fiber. These also determine how full you feel after eating.

Let’s compare the calories in some common foods and drinks:

So which are the good calories and which are the bad? It’s helpful to use the principle of clean eating” — so give preference to unprocessed foods in the purest forms. This includes things like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, or eggs. You can fill up on these foods without giving much thought to your daily caloric intake limit. Variety amongst these items is key though.

The bad calories can be found in high-sugar foods or fast food, which follow exactly the opposite principle. They offer you almost no nutrients, but a ton of empty calories. If you’re trying to maintain your weight, you’ll have to pay attention to your “bad” calorie intake. They only make you feel full temporarily, but usually lead to cravings shortly after. You can enjoy a bad calorie from time to time, but keep it to a minimum.



Julia Denner As a dietitian, Julia wants to inspire others to eat a healthy and balanced diet. She loves cooking, being outdoors, and does yoga and strength training to relax. View all posts by Julia Denner »