The Mighty Calorie and a Mighty Good BBQ Bean Recipe

By Michelle Jenck, M.Ed., Coordinator, Year of Wellness

Calories are a pretty big deal. If we don’t consume enough of them, we starve. If we get too many, we gain weight. Both can have very serious health consequences over time. Getting the ideal number of calories is the goal but that is easier said than done. In addition to taking in the right amount of calories, it is best if they come from nutritious foods.
Calories are basic energy units. Plants take in energy from the sun and use it to make carbohydrates so they can grow into things like grass, vegetables, fruit and other foods that animals and humans eat. Once consumed, the units of energy stored within that plant are used to meet the energy needs of that person or animal. For a child, this energy is used to help them grow. Every parent of a teenager can attest to their increased energy needs! All living beings use energy to perform basic body functions like regulating body temperature, digesting food, fueling muscles and even our brains.

The nutrients that provide us with energy, measured by calories, are fat, protein, carbohydrate and alcohol. If we prioritize getting our calories from healthy sources like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates and minimize our “liquid” calories, we are well on our way to maximizing our nutrient intake.

Photo Illustration about how treadmill calorie counters are incorrect.
Jed Dean | Lariat Photo Editor

How many calories a person needs typically ranges between 1600-3200 per day, depending on factors such as whether you are male or female, how old you are, and how much physical activity you do every day. An athlete will likely need more calories to fuel their extra activity. Also, people with more muscle mass can consume more calories because muscle tissue is very metabolically active. How many calories a person burns at rest is called the basal metabolic rate. This can lower with age, inactivity and loss of muscle mass. The good news is that increasing activity can increase the number of calories our bodies burn, even when they are at rest.
Getting the right amount of calories and being physically active are both important to maintain a healthy weight. Cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, aerobics, and dancing can raise the resting metabolic rate when performed on a consistent basis. Weight training and other strengthening activities like yoga and tai chi increase muscle mass, which also raises resting metabolic rate for increased daily calorie burning.
To have the maximum health benefit, the CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes/week of moderate to vigorous activity. This is a good starting point for ensuring that you are burning enough of the calories you take in. If weight loss is a goal, reducing caloric intake and increasing activity levels is key. For more help and information, the YMCA, NCRD and OSU Extension all offer instructor led fitness programming.
Another great resource can be found at The site offers calorie, activity and nutrition tracking resources as well as virtual coaching support to help you achieve personal goals.
Try this quick and easy (and lightened up!) version of a summertime staple: BBQ beans. Lower in sugar and sodium, you’ll save calories and love the flavor of this not-too-sweet side dish. Start with dried white beans to make this an economical option, which gets you 4 wins over the canned version: fewer calories, less salt, less sugar, and less expensive. A ¼ cup serving is recommended as a side dish, around ½ cup makes this a main dish. Use it as a healthy stand-in for any meal.

Homemade BBQ Beans for a Crowd
Recipe Source: Michelle Jenck

Number of servings: About 32 servings as a side dish (1/4 cup)
Time for preparation (including preparation and cooking): 25 minutes


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves
1/8 tsp chili powder
2/3 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
7-8 cups of cooked navy beans or Great Northern beans (start with 2 1/2 cup of dried beans), or 5 cans navy beans or Great Northern beans, rinsed (Can also use a medley of kidney, black or white beans)
pinch of cayenne (optional)
• Heat a pan over medium heat.
• Add butter and onion to pan. Cook, stirring often, until onion is lightly brown and softened, about 5 minutes.
• Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
• Remove from heat and add all remaining ingredients.
• Add salt and pepper to taste.
• Simmer for 10-12 minutes or until heated through.