Ever wonder what exactly a calorie actually is? Or whether there is such thing as good cholesterol? For National Healthy Aging Month, we’re celebrating by breaking down three of the most misunderstood and important health misconceptions and questions.
What Are Calories, and Why Do They Matter?
A calorie is a unit of energy. While calories vary in types and measurements, the calories we are all most familiar with are the ones we use to measure nutrition. Calories are measured by a food’s basic nutrients. The three main nutrients calories are measured off of are:
- Carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram.
- Protein = 4 calories per gram.
- Fat = 9 calories per gram.
This is why foods high in fat have higher calories than foods high in protein or carbs. This is also why many people find it useful to count their daily intake of calories. It gives them more control in making sure their daily intake of calories is not consumed by empty calories, which are calories gained from foods high in fat that have little to no nutritional value.
What Are Carbs, and Should You Be Eating Them?
It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about cutting out carbs as a way of losing weight. But, what most people don’t know is that carbs are found in the majority of foods, and they’re not bad for you. According to the USDA, 45% – 65% of daily calorie intake should be carbs. This is because carbs are our body’s main source of fuel. Carbs are broken down by the body into glucose, which the body then uses for energy. Carbohydrates are also essential to maintaining function in the central nervous system, kidneys, brain, muscles, and heart. Certain carbs are also fiber, which is essential to the body’s intestinal health and waste elimination
So, why do carbs have a bad reputation? Many foods that are high in carbs are refined and processed, which strip away the food’s nutritional value. Foods like white rice and white bread have plenty of carbs, but are lacking in fiber and other important nutrients. While most people know that refined foods are generally bad, many incorrectly blame the food’s shortcomings on its carbs.
How Can There be Both Good and Bad Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty-like substance that can be found in all of the body’s cells. It is necessary in helping the body produce hormones, Vitamin D, and other substances that aid digestion. So, why is it so bad for us? While we do need cholesterol to remain healthy, the body actually produces all the cholesterol it needs. Too much cholesterol can lead to higher risk in heart disease.
There are two types of cholesterol:
LDL cholesterol, which in high levels causes buildup in the arteries.
HDL cholesterol, which carries other cholesterol in the body to the liver, where it is then removed from the body.
LDL is often described as the bad cholesterol and HDL as the good. This is because high levels of LDL cholesterol can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to coronary heart disease. High levels of HDL help lower your risk of coronary heart disease.