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Where do Calories Come from?

By Ken Black
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Calories come from the energy stored in the foods we eat. They may come in many different forms and many different ways, but they can be traced to one of a number of different things in food. They come from carbohydrates, fats, alcohol and protein. Without these, there are no calories.

While some have come to believe calories are bad, with the increased focus on them and weight management, this simply is not true. Calories are essential for all living things. However, in some cases, their overconsumption can lead to negative health consequences, including excessive weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.

Most dietitians recommend getting calories from carbohydrates and proteins. Some say carbs should make up approximately half of that total, while those from fat should only make up approximately 30% of the total consumed in a day. There are 4 calories per gram of carbs and 4 per gram of proteins. However, fat has 9 calories per gram.

Given these numbers, it is clear to see that restricting fat calories to less than 30% of the total calories consumed is a monumental task. In fact, those from 1 gram of carbs and 1 gram of protein combined do not equal what is available in 1 gram of fat. Therefore, diets that are high in both protein and carbs are essential in order to get the energy needed, yet reduce those from fat intake. The USDA has set up a food pyramid that will help consumers choose the correct foods. Though it does not focus on calories, those following this plan should have a nutritionally-balanced diet that draws energy from a well-rounded sources.

While this may fly in the face of popular, low-carb diets, the issue has really never been the carbohydrates. Instead, the issue remains, as it always has, one of calories. Low carb diets work because instead of filling up on carbs, you are filling up on proteins and fats. In the end, this can satisfy hunger and lead to cutting out calories from carbs. Still, it is not the elimination of the carbs that is causing the weight loss or maintenance, but the reduction of calories.

It is also important to note that calories are not the only consideration. Dietitians also recommend people receive a nutritionally-balanced meal that includes other essential elements, but does not go overboard on the calories. Many nutritionists, therefore, advise against low or no-carb diets simply because they cut out essential things that human beings need in their diets.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon346128 — On Aug 25, 2013

"While some have come to believe calories are bad..."

This is an extremely misleading statement. Some 99 percent of Americans overconsume calories, and are looking for any excuse to continue or increase that overconsumption. Their longevity would be improved by thinking of calories as bad. From their perspective, it's not true at all.

By anon283350 — On Aug 03, 2012

No it's not calories, it's carbs. The science tells the truth. Read Taubs' "Why We Get Fat."

By anon189049 — On Jun 22, 2011

Check the serving size. Often nurtitional information labels are misleading and list serving sizes as a portion of the amount contained in the package.

Remaining calories come from the fourth source of energy which isn't listed as nutritional information: alcohol. Alcohol has seven calories per gram.

By anon178190 — On May 20, 2011

MGD 64 Beer has only 64 calories. It has 2.8 grams of carbs, less than 1 gram of protein and 0 grams of fat. If carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram; protein = 4 calories per gram and fate = 9 calories per gram, then MGD 64 should only have roughly 16 calories. Where do the other 48 calories come from?

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