Have you ever looked at the nutrition label on the back of your favorite snack, and noticed the label for “calories” per serving, right next to another noting “calories from fat” specifically? What’s the deal with that? Isn’t a calorie just a calorie? If you track your calories and stay within the healthy daily limit for your body type, does it matter if the calories come from fat, or protein, or carbs?
Actually, it does, and calories from fat is a particularly important metric any health-conscious person watching their health and weight should take into account when tracking their food intake. In this guide, we’ll go over the components that make up a calorie, and explain why calories from fat should be treated with extra caution and awareness. Learn more about dietary nutrition and how different types of foods interact with your body in this beginner’s course on nutrition.
What is a Calorie?
Food calories act as a kind of fuel for the body, providing energy for its many functions. Fat is just one component that can make up a calorie. Calories also come from protein, carbohydrates, and alcohol, but for one pure gram of each the amount of calories is different.
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- 1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
As you can see from the list above, protein and carbs provide the least amount of calories in their purest form, while fat provides the most. Most of what we eat, especially when it comes to prepared and processes foods, aren’t pure protein, or pure carbs, or pure fat, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend substituting your dinner for pure alcohol either. (Jokes aside, you should be aware of the amount of alcohol you’re putting in your body. Check out this guide to the alcohol content of various beers for more info on measuring alcohol levels in your favorite beverages.)
Calories vs. Calories From Fat
What the varied levels of fat, protein, and carbs in your meals means is that it’s important to measure the amount of calories you’re getting from each. Calories from protein is much healthier than calories from fat, for instance. The reason for this is because fat is known to cause health risks like heart disease. You can learn more about this in this guide to leading a healthy life, or this course on preparing heart healthy and other disease preventing foods.
- How Much is Too Much?
The average person, no matter what the recommended daily caloric intake for their body might be, should keep their fat consumption at or below 30% of that number. For instance, if you’re a 25 year old woman who is 5’5 and 130 pounds, you should consume about 1800 calories a day to maintain that weight. To stay heart healthy and also make sure what you’re eating is nutritional, only 540 of those daily calories should come from fat. No more than 540, but you can go under if you want to be even healthier.
It can be easy to go over this limit if you’re an avid snacker, but be aware that binge eating is as serious a problem as any other eating disorder. See this course on how to stop binge eating for help. Eating unhealthy food and putting on unhealthy is not about looks – it’s a health issue, and while everyone has a different body type that is healthy for them to maintain, overeating – especially calories from fat – is not good for anyone.
- Interpreting the Nutrition Label
The primary reason it’s better to look at calories from fat instead of just glimpsing the calories per serving and checking for grams of fat separately is because the latter can be misleading.
As demonstrated on this website, you can have a can of black beans that has 227 calories in one serving, which might deter a health conscious individual, but when you see that only 8 of those calories come from fat, it lessens the blow. Comparatively, you can have one serving of vegetable oil that’s only 40 calories, but if all 40 calories come from fat, that certainly doesn’t make the oil a healthier option if we’re talking pure caloric intake.
Grab a box or package of something from the kitchen now and take a look at the nutritional label. A certain brand of tortilla chips, for instance, contains 130 calories in a one ounce serving, with 40 of those calories coming from fat. There are 4.5 grams of total fat. One serving also contains 21 grams of carbs.
When it comes to a low fat snack, these chips aren’t a bad choice, but they are high in carbs which, if you’re not burning right away, can make you put on weight. (Check out this guide to a low carb grocery list for some tips on keeping the carbs out of your diet.)
- What Should You Do?
Stay conscious of what kinds of food you’re putting into your body. Check out this course on controlling your blood pressure, or learn more about health in general in this “perfect health” nutrition course.