What is a calorie?

We talk about them a lot … demonize them, savor them, dole them out.

A calorie is a unit of energy.  Particularly, heat energy.  It’s the amount of energy it takes to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Centigrade.  Not very much.  Actually to keep the numbers in a range of hundreds or thousands, it’s actually 1,000 times that.  The unit we use is actually called a kilocalorie, 1000 small-c calories.

A can of soda has 150 calories; a gallon of gas has 31,000 calories, though we don’t drink it.

Foods have different caloric values because we can metabolize, or “burn”, calories from fat (9 calories per gram) more effectively than from protein or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram).

Oatmeal has 2 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein and 32 grams of carbohydrates, producing a total of 162 calories, rounded down.  18 come from fat (9 cal x 2 g), 16 come from protein (4 cal x 4 g) and 128 come from carbohydrates (4 cal x 32 g).

Food is transformed into glucose to travel through our bodies.  Some calories fill us up quickly because they take a long time for our stomach to juice them down so they’re ready to exit the stomach, then they take a long time to break down; meat protein and oatmeal, for example are a long way from glucuse as far as what molecules have to be spun off them before they become glucose.   Other calories fill us up almost none at all because they are atomically, as sugars and starches, already pretty much lined up to easily become the glucose sugar that travels in our cells to power us up.  Hormonal changes and blood sugar changes, which are interrelated, encourage us to eat more when the time comes.

And when we have more glucose being created than we need, insulin is created by our pancreas to convert that glucose into fat.  When we have too little glucose coming in, fat is converted back to energy via another process.

The above is a vast over-simplification, as is every brief conversation about how wonderfully we’re made to adapt to the nature and amount of food coming in.  The main point for weight loss purposes being:  if you control your calorie balance so that calories are short, you will metabolize your fat store and lose weight.  There’s not another choice, there’s not a Dreaded Plateau, there’s not a mysterious inability of our body to work like everyone else’s.  It doe s work, always and completely.



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