Prue Leith asks this question in the Great British Bake Off, and some of those bakes are definitely worth it!
I recently read an article in a well-known newspaper about the quality of Calories and because it’s the way I am, it set me thinking. The general feel of the article was that maybe instead of getting caught up in the number of Calories we were eating, that, maybe, we ought to be thinking about making those Calories count. It referred to one of my favourite websites for information; the British Nutrition Foundation – www.nutrition.org.uk This is a brilliant source of accessible information about all things food and I have used it in schools for years.
So, what is a Calorie? Technically, it should be Kilocalorie, but most people who think about the Calories in their food talk about Calories which is why I have given it a capital letter. A Kilocalorie is the amount of heat energy needed to raise 1 litre of water by 1˚C. You may wonder what that has got to do with anything you eat! I am not surprised. Maybe just think of it as a measure of energy.
All food contains Calories, not just the ones we think of as ‘bad’ for us like sugars and fats. There is an idea that foods like celery provide fewer Calories than they take to digest. I will leave whether that is true for another time.
There is a calorific value to all nutrients in foods and they provide different amounts: protein provides approx. 4kcal/g, carbohydrates provide 3.75kcal/g, (sometimes rounded up to 4), fat provides 9kcal/g and alcohol provides 7kcal/g. As food is often a mixture of different nutrients, it is often quite difficult to work out the calorific values of foods without specialist information. Just think of a nice glass of wine – it contains both sugar (carbohydrate) and alcohol in different amounts depending on how sweet the wine is and the grapes used. Far too complicated, especially after the second glass!!
Then there are Empty Calories – foods that provide calories but nothing else, so no nutrients or anything else useful to us. The only food that provides only Empty Calories is Sugar - the processed white or brown stuff that we love to eat so much. These are known as Free Sugars or Extrinsic Sugars, and are generally sugars that are processed from either sugar cane or sugar beet and are added to foods to sweeten, brown or help aerate cakes. Too much of these in the diet is not good and has been linked to the increase in conditions like Type 2 diabetes. The other type of sugar has been called Bound sugar or Intrinsic sugar. These are sugars that are found in the cells of foods that are used as energy stores for plants, e.g. root vegetables and fruit. These are used by the body in a slightly different way. At least if the sugar is in these other foods we get the benefit of other nutrients, particularly micro-nutrients and things like antioxidants which are good for you.
So, maybe, the Empty Calories are not Quality calories and that is why health experts are suggesting that we don’t eat too many of these. My Garden treat cakes contain some sugar, though less than conventional cakes, but also that from vegetables to help with the sweetness while giving micro-nutrients and antioxidants so hopefully giving slightly better Quality Calories. (and you can’t tell!)
At the end of the day, a Calorie, no matter what the quality is still going to sit in you as an energy store if you don’t use it.
Till next time