What’s in a gram?

A gram is a unit of weight, about 1/28 of an ounce. Why measure fat in grams? Well, that’s how nutrition scientists do it, and it’s a convenient measure because it gives us reasonable numbers — single and double digits, with no decimals. It’s a unit that’s easy to count.

Weight in food does not translate directly into weight in the body. Two pounds of food does not add two pounds of flesh to your frame. Food goes through a number of biochemical processes in your body to release energy that your body can use. Because of its molecular structure, fat releases more energy per unit of weight than other food energy sources. Food energy is typically measured in units known as calories. Fat releases 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrate release 4. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram.

These differences in energy density are why you can eat more food to achieve a given caloric intake on a high-carbohydrate diet than on a high-fat diet. Of course, carbohydrates do contain energy that your body will store when energy is not needed. This means your body can turn carbohydrates and protein into fat; you can gain weight if you eat too many calories, no matter what the source. But it is much harder to eat too many calories of vegetables, grains, legumes and fruits than of fats.

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