Energy and its measurement
To measure weight, we use the units of gram or kilogram. For distance we use kilometer. Similarly, for energy the units of kilocalories are most commonly used. Note that 1 Calorie (with a capital ‘C’) equals 1000 calories (or 1 kilocalorie). Technically 1 Calorie is the amount of energy required to heat up 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree centigrade. Lets not bother about the technical details. For the purposes of this blog it is sufficient to know that energy of foods is most commonly represented in Calories.
What makes up our food?
Food can be classified into 3 major components – Carbohydrates (e.g. wheat and rice), Proteins (e.g. pulses and meats), and Fats (e.g. oils and ghee). One gram of fat contains about 9 Calories of energy, whereas one gram of either carbohydrates or proteins contains about 4 Calories of energy. Thus, fats are much more energy dense than carbohydrates or proteins. Other than these 3 major components, there are vitamins and minerals, that are important for normal functioning of the body, but do not have any energy values associated with them.
Thus, Calories, Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins, and Minerals – these are the basic terms we will keep using in our discussions on nutrition. These are also the terms that are found on the ‘nutrition facts’ label on most of the food products. As an example, here is a label from Parle-G biscuit, which provides very basic nutritional information.
This label is very basic and does not provide a breakup of sugars as part of carbohydrates. Sometimes such selective reporting may be deliberately used to trick consumers. For those who might be interested, here is a recent case study of one of the misleading nutritional claims to make a product seem healthy.
Reliable sources of information
These days there is abundance of information on the Internet. It can get difficult to get to the right information quickly and reliably. For convenience of our readers, 2 official sources for reliable information are mentioned below:
- Dietary Guidelines from the National Institute of Nutrition
- Nutrient Requirements And Recommended Dietary Allowances For Indians
We hope this basic terminology will help you better understand the nutrition information, and lead to healthier choices when picking up foodstuffs from kirana stores or market shelves.
© Umang Agarwal 2016
It is our endeavor to make sure the information presented is correct and based on scientific evidence. No liability for error, omission or unintentional misrepresentation will be accepted. The contents herein are not a medical advice.