Update: A Nigerian reader suggested that having the weight measurements in this post in Kg will help Nigerians understand this post more. I appreciate that feedback. 2 pounds (2lb) is 0.9 kg. So if you see 110 pounds, read 55kg (110lb actually equal 49kg but you don’t need that exactitude to appreciate the idea conveyed in this post). Thanks to the reader who drew my attention to the unit of weight measurement in Nigeria.
Years ago, when I was living in boarding school, I’d finish a packet of golden morn (with heaps of powdered milk) in three or four meals ignoring the labels stating the packet contained 16 servings. Now, I still eat more than the recommended serving of Honey Bunches of Oats but with a proportionate dose of guilt.
I began getting a grasp of calories and what it means for my health when I started watching daytime TV shows like Lose Big With Ali Vincent a few years ago. I am sharing some of that knowledge with you with a caveat that I am not a health professional. That said, here are five basic facts you should know about calories to help you make better choices and informed decisions about your health.
1. You Need to Eat Only Between 2000 and 2700 Calories a Day
Calorie is a unit of heat used to indicate the amount of energy that foods will produce in the human body. Recommended calorie intake depends on factors such as age, size, height, gender, lifestyle and overall general health.
The body needs calories to provide basic life functions, such as breathing and pumping blood. The number of calories the body needs to do this varies from person to person, and it’s known as your basal metabolic rate. You can determine your BMR with an online calculator or a mathematics equation.
Using this online calculator, I found that I have a BMR of about 1,500 calories. So even if I don’t engage in any physical activity, I will still need to consume about 1,500 calories to maintain my current weight.
The average male adult needs approximately 2,500 calories per day to keep his weight constant, while the average adult female needs 2,000. 2,000 calories is 500 in excess of my BMR because light activities like walking and cooking uses up the 500 calories not used for my BMR.
2. 3,500 calories equal one pound of body weight.
Generally if you want to lose wait, you have to dump an average of 1,000 calories per day in an effort to lose 2 pounds of body fat per week.
So let’s say you need to lose 110 pounds (approximately 50kg) and your recommended healthy weight requires 1,500 calories to support but you consume 3,500 calories per day, you can reduce your daily caloric intake to 2,000 calories – thus losing about four pounds per week or 16 or more per month. In only a couple of short months, you could have dropped about fifty pounds and at this point would be mid-way through your final weight loss goal.
Calories can add up quickly than you think and that is why losing eight is easier said than done. So let’s say you are doing all the right things to reach your weight loss goals, just consuming an extra 100 calories (approximately the calorie in one banana or apple) every day for 35 days will result in a weight gain of one pound just for the extra banana or apple. To counter its effect, you will need to walk about thirty minutes each day just to burn the 100 calories.
3. Empty Calories, Carbs, Fats, and Sugars are the Enemies
If you consider that weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise, you will make smarter decisions in what you eat. And this makes sense: if you don’t put in excess calories in your body when you eat, then you don’t have to engage in intensive exercise because there is nothing to burn.
I was watching one of my favorite Nigerian Vloggers cook yesterday and I cringed at the quantity of oil she used to prepare her stew. Now, vegetable oil contains about 130 calories per table spoon. From what I saw in the vlog, and given that the stew prepared could serve only about five people, anybody that ate that food would have consumed about 750 calories just from the oil alone. Prepare your meals yourself so you can be sure that what you have in your food is in line with your dietary preferences.
You know that soda (‘mineral’) is bad for you but do you know that malt drink is not any healthier. A bottle of malt (nutrition information may vary by brand) contains about 210 calories–43 grams of sugar (that’s about 11 cubes of sugar) and more than 17% of daily carbohydrate need. This knowledge has since made me find malt unappealing (and no you are not doing that elderly relative a favor by offering her malt because you think it is more nutritious than soda). A bottle of malt doesn’t offer any nutritional value but takes up about one-tenth of one’s calorie daily allowance. If you are predisposed to diabetes, taking a bottle of malt becomes a death-sentence.
Fruit juice is just as bad–forget the ‘fruit’ in it. Eat whole fruits with the fiber etc. Sugarstacks.com has helped me reduce my intake of sugar because of its visual recreation of sugar contained in most food. It will help you think twice before you gulp down another can of soda.
When you fill up with empty calorie foods like sugary drinks, donuts, french fries etc, you have little room to take in healthy foods like broccoli (a few days ago my daughter asked me to give her more ‘trees’ when she was requesting for more broccoli. That made me laugh. Indeed they are miniature trees, the stalks look like tree trunks and the crown like tree branches with leaves), kale, ugu, cucumber (one of my best, only about 45 calorie for one cucumber but it keeps you full and nourishes you without taking much of your calorie allowance), lettuce etc.
If you are counting your calories, then you must make every calorie count. A good guide is to fill half of your plates with vegetables at each meal (no, a meal of jollof rice, chicken, and fried plantain is anything but a balanced diet). On average, you should take about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.
4. Read Your Food Labels
Reading food labels will help you make healthier choices. The bottle of malt I mentioned earlier comes from a carton we got from seven months back. I used to consider a chilled bottle of malt a treat but since learning how little they offer in the way of nutrition, I avoid them and take a sip occasionally. So read you food labels and you will be surprised what you find.
While I don’t know if Nigeria has laws requiring the food industry to label food packages, most imported foods come with them. In any case, google is your friend. You can calculate how many calories are contained in a plate of rice you cook from scratch by googling the individual foods you use to cook the rice. For example you can find the nutrition information for rice, tomato, vegetable oil, onion online and then add them up to determine how much calories is contained in that steaming-hot-oil-loaded-fried rice.
Reading food labels will also help you know when you shouldn’t eat more food because you have exceeded your daily limit. So if for lunch you stopped at a McDonald’s and ate a meal of Big mac, french fries and a can of soda, you may have to skip dinner or you will derail from you weight loss goals.
5. Exercise In Order to Burn More Calories than You Consume
Weight loss is a game of numbers. Fitness experts stress the importance of exercise for weight loss because exercise helps burn calories and get rid of excess fat. So if you burn 350 calories by engaging in intensive exercise everyday for ten days, you will lose 1 pound in ten days solely on account of that exercise.
A good combination of healthy diet and exercise regimen is the surest way to lose weight. Not sure if you need to lose weight? Calculate your Body Mass Index here.. You will be surprised that as a mother of five weighing 70kg you are overweight.
To conclude, here are a few practical tips to help you reach your weight loss goals:
1. Incorporate vegetables in your meal as often as you can (for example, cook afang soup (without the excess oil) more than oha soup);
2. Throw in mixed vegetable like carrot and peas when cooking indomie and white rice;
3. Always have cold water (water contains zero calories; it doesn’t get any better than that) in the fridge as it makes it easier to overlook the chilled sodas (even better, don’t keep soda in the house);
4. Offer your kids apple in place of ice cream for snacks;
5. Shop the frozen sections at Shoprite for a variety of vegetable–they are cheaper than fresh ones;
6. Use paprika instead of red oil to color your food (a 6 for 130 calorie sawp); and
7. Exercise with workout videos on Youtube in the comfort of your home; you don’t need to register in a gym
I hope this blog helps you stay healthier this year. Let’s keep fit!
P.S: Please don’t expect to see an Agbani next time you see me. I’m a work in progress myself. And Like I said in this blog, I learn by blogging.
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