According to the energy balance equation, your body gains energy when you intake more calories through your diet than you expend through physical activity. That’s why the main point of most diets is to limit your energy intake through counting carbs or calories.
It seems like a few years ago all of the diets were about counting calories and now they’re all about limiting carbohydrates. Should you limit carbs or calories?
Calories Are Energy, Right?
Yes! To set the record straight, carbs are not units of energy.
Calories are the units of energy. A single calorie is the amount of energy that it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. This is a very small amount of energy, so when you read the nutrition label on your food, what they call “Calories” (with an upper-case C) is actually the number of kilocalories (that is, one thousand lower-case c calories).
It doesn’t really matter which scale we’re talking about, as long as you understand what calories are and why they’re important.
Carbs Are Energy, Right?
No! As mentioned above, carbohydrate is not a unit of energy like the calorie is. Carbohydrate is a class of nutrient, along with proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all called “energy-yielding nutrients” because the body can break them all down to release calories.
Of the energy yielding nutrients, proteins and carbohydrates both release 4 calories per gram each, while fat releases 9 calories per gram.
So Why Are Carbs So Special?
You might be wondering, if fat contains more than twice the calories per gram, why do all of these diets have us watching carbs?
The average person has much more carbohydrates than fat in their diet. We tend to think of carbohydrates as coming from grains, like pastas and breads. These are sources of carbohydrates, but so are fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Sugar is regulated in the body by the hormone, insulin. But insulin also turns extra calories from sugar into fat!
Sugars are added to just about everything. If you put a store-bought sauce on your pasta, you’re putting carbs on carbs. If you put jam or jelly on your bread, you’re putting carbs on carbs. And don’t even get us started on sources like soda and junk food.
Our body needs fibre, vitamins and minerals, and these nutrients must come from carbohydrates that don’t have as many calories or sugars - like vegetables!
We usually don’t think of fat as being good for us, but it’s in every cell of our bodies, and is very important to the nervous system. While some fats are better than others, you should be careful about how much you get of each kind.
Therefore, it’s important to have a certified coach or trainer help you plan your meals according to your lifestyle and body type.