Calories: the bane of every dieter. Except, we see how well that’s working for us in the modern U.S. What are calories, and how important are they? Well, here are my thoughts, and I’d love feedback from anyone with something to add.

Calories, technically speaking, are simply a measurement of energy. A ‘calorie’ is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celcius at one atmosphere of pressure–but that’s not exactly what we measure in food. What we use there is a ‘Calorie’ (it must be capitalized), which is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celcius. Why are we using the metric system? I don’t know.

But here’s the first obstacle: actual Calories for food are no longer calculated. Instead, existing measurements have been averaged to find the approximate number of Calories per gram of protein, carbohydrate and lipid. So, no matter how carefully you read your packaging, you never know exactly how many Calories are in what you are eating–you only have an approximation.

Close enough, you say? Well, consider that this approximation was arrived at by burning the food. That is, the food was placed in a sealed container, put underwater, and lit on fire to determine how much energy was released (based on how much warmer the surrounding water became). What does that have to do with anything? Well, your body reduces food into digestible pieces through two processes: mechanical digestion and chemical digestion. Mechanical digestion consists of things like chewing and stomach-churning, while chemical digestion consists of things like hydrolysis (the breakdown of protein by acids) and enzyme reactions. This is all completely different from burning; a process chemically known as oxidation. If oxidation is occurring inside your body, you are in trouble.

This means two things: first, we are measuring energy released by the wrong process. That means that Calorie measurements are actually completely meaningless when it comes to nutrition. Second, even if we establish a link between energy released by digestion and energy released by oxidation, we have been measuring energy released from things that your body does not actually store for energy. Fiber, for instance, is indigestible by humans–but burns quite nicely. Likewise protein–which might be used for energy, but is much more likely to be used to repair damaged tissue (something which lipid and carbohydrate cannot do).

Finally, let’s examine the idea that weight gain is caused by excess calorie intake. How many times have we heard that someone is just holding ‘water weight’? Is this different from other weight? No. Yet water contains no Calories. If I ate a pound of sand, would I gain a pound of weight (before I died)? Absolutely. Yet sand contains no Calories.

My conclusion is this: while the measurment of protein, carbohydrate, and lipid grams can be useful, the measurement of Calories in food is absolutely meaningless as far as health or weight control. What is important is how your body will actually interact with the food in question–and that is determined more by the nutrient composition of the food, than by how well it burns.

Published by Little-Known Blogger

I spent the first years of my life in a trailer park outside of a tiny town in rural Missouri. I grew up to be a long-haired, gun-hating, military-hating, Presbyterian super-liberal. Well, perhaps the “growing up” happened later. While in high school, I was on the cross-country and wrestling teams, and actually won my weight-class in a State powerlifting competition. I went on to attend college on a Bright Flight scholarship, where I promptly became an atheist. I trained for a few years in Shotokan karate and Cheng-system taijiquan before training in my first real martial art, Hwarang-Do, under the late Franklin Fowlkes (later the Founder and Grandmaster of the Five Elements Martial Arts System). I married an older Taiwanese woman my junior year, got divorced in short order, and dropped out of college. After completing my AA in Psychology, I decided I needed a complete change of scenery and joined the U.S. Marine Corps (having early been assured that there was no way that a skinny liberal like me would ever survive Boot Camp). Contrary to what the Hipster Zombies will tell you, this did not “brainwash me into being a Conservative”. Instead, it made me a very unhappy, short-haired liberal, surrounded by guns and the military. However, I spent my whole contract (after schools) on the island of Okinawa, where I was exposed to points of view not dominated by the American liberal media. During this time, I taught ESL classes as a side-job, trained under some of the highest-ranking masters of karate on Okinawa, and discovered the practice of Buddhism. I also spent some time in Korea, where I got to train in hapkido. It was during this period that I came gradually to realize how stupid and evil American liberalism actually is. This was partly due to my Military Police command sending me to Small Arms Instructor school, which gave me more exposure to guns than I could ever have imagined—thus negating my idiotic liberal distaste for them. After the active-duty portion of my Marine Corps contract was over, I worked several jobs, from security contracts to operating a forklift in a warehouse. In 2002, however, when the invasion of Iraq was getting under way, I signed up with the Missouri Army National Guard, and have remained with them since, continuing as a Military Policeman. I am also full-time corrections officer, a member of the Anglican Church, and at one time was an Instructor Candidate in Dekiti-Tirsia Serradas Kali (until my instructor moved away). My hobbies (beyond blogging) include strength training, shooting sports, martial arts, creating digital art, and being a huge science and science-fiction geek.

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