6

votes

Calories - Combustion versus Digestion

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created May 31, 2011 at 9:01 PM

In reference to this chapter/post link text from Dr. James E. Carlson's book "Genocide, how your doctors dietary ignorance will kill you!", I would like to ask a few questions regarding this "Calories" measurement please.

  1. If a calorie is a way of measuring Combustion (how much heat is given off - the definition for it) then where exactly do we "burn" food inside our bodies?

  2. If this place exists, is this "burning" process really so huge and even close to be used as a reputable measurement of any/potential energy inside a human body? Don't we UTILIZE free fatty acids for energy instead of "burning" stuff?

  3. What about all the enzymes, hormones, metabolic pathways etc, why is that not part of this Calories calculation ?

  4. Has there ever been a single study in any country in any language where it was proofed anything in the lines of "Food with 150 Calories will provide more usable energy inside the human body than something with 100 Calories". I am not talking about measuring combustion in a closed container in a lab, I am talking about actual clinical studies on a human body ?

  5. Should we not maybe search for a better term to measure energy inside the human body than Calories ?

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 29, 2011
at 10:27 PM

Melissa - also wanted to add that, to me, 1400 cals seems really low, which means that your body is probably in conservation mode. upping the calories may temporarily cause a little weight gain because you're body is still conserving, but if they're good calories (i.e., not carbs - mct fats would be ideal), your body will start to burn "hotter" and should bounce back down to a good weight. I recognize that some people may have bad satiety meters, but I still maintain that caloric restriction is not a good long-term solution.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 29, 2011
at 03:44 AM

Melissa - short answer: yes. For the long answer, email me because 500 characters just isn't enough. (m i k e d e s k e v i c h at gmail.com)

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on June 29, 2011
at 01:31 AM

Do you think this works for the formerly obese as well? I have been eating 90/95% Paleo and even raising my calories to 1400 made me gain weight. That was low carb / moderate carb.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on June 01, 2011
at 07:11 PM

His style def leaves something to be desired. E.g. *"Stupidity is difficulty in understanding a topic, and I do not like the word at all. Ignorance occurs when we really, truly, honestly just do not know because we just have not been smart enough to discover something yet."* It's hard to hear anything worthwhile with asinine comments like that interspersed.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on June 01, 2011
at 06:40 PM

Yes, great answer, thanks for putting a lot of time and thought in.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on June 01, 2011
at 05:32 PM

Aww, Matthew! I bought it awhile ago and it's in pile of "To Be Read" books. Should I send it to you when I'm done? ;)

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on June 01, 2011
at 05:14 PM

Have you read the link in the question? I almost lost the will to live after reading that.

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 01, 2011
at 05:11 PM

Awesome answer. I wish I could upvote ten times.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on June 01, 2011
at 04:42 PM

I agree -- so much dietary advice suffers from the bias of what can be measured, rather than what is important. Calories can be quantified and estimated, but health can't. The same is true of cholesterol numbers. Everyone should think of health as an overall picture rather than a few numbers.

9f933fedd259b97a5369c3ee5dae3151

(341)

on June 01, 2011
at 04:28 PM

umm.. have you read it?

B383982420d8cb1bfaace4f7fbc5d1e2

on June 01, 2011
at 06:39 AM

I think if we believe in using calories then we can also believe that eating a horse would give us 1 horse power energy...

B383982420d8cb1bfaace4f7fbc5d1e2

on June 01, 2011
at 06:27 AM

Thanks Dave, that is what I want to know more about. How does X amount of Calories tell us how many y amount of ATP would be created? also, is there any place where we "burn" food. If not, then calories are simply misleading. ~ LowcarbJC

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on May 31, 2011
at 10:57 PM

I think perhaps the book should have been called "How Doctor James E. Carlson's ignorance will mislead and confuse you".

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7 Answers

13
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 01, 2011
at 04:45 PM

This is a great question, simply stated and can provide a ton of insight. I'll try my best here, but on my shelf I have three 1000+ page books on thermodynamics, so this will be quite a simplified introduction. If anyone wants more details, let me know and I can try to do a better write up with pictures and everything.

First, lets start with the definition of a calorie. A calorie is a unit of energy which is defined as the amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree C. A Calorie (capital C) is 1000 calories and is a "food calorie". So it's just a bigger unit or energy. From here on I'll be talking about "Calories" even if I forget to capitalize it...

When someone says "how many calories are in something", that's really short hand for how many calories are released during the combustion reaction:

Food + Oxygen -> Carbon Dioxide + Water

or as a chemist would write it:

Food + O2 -> CO2 + H2O

Bascially there's an intinsic energy in everything, but that's HUGE and immeasureable (easily), so we always talk in "changes in energy". So in the reaction above, the heat released is:

H = [ E(CO2) + E(H2O) ] - [ E(Food) + E(O2) ]

Where E(x) is the intrinsic energy in x. But we can't measure that, we just measure the heat released, H.

Ok, so what then do we use that to tell us how much energy is in food? Well, as long as we have a convention, then we're good. So our convention is that the "end products" are CO2 + H2O and we measure everything releative to that.

In the end, all food is "burnt" (oxidized) in the mitochondria and will eventually turn in to CO2 (what you breath out) and H2O (also what you breath out or pee) or it's excreted (poop). So when you eat food the reaction is really this:

Food + O2 -> CO2 + H2O + Poop

The CO2 and H2O are the byproducts of combustion (or your metabolism). We can write this in short hand like this:

Food -> Energy + Poop

Which thermodynamically is written as

[ E(Energy) + E(Poop) ] - [ E(Food) ]

Which looks very suspicically like

Energy out - Energy in (Chemists write it backward from nutritionists)

And that's where everything goes wrong, people think that you can eaisly control both energy out and energy in. But if you look at the original equation this came from

Food -> Energy + Poop

You can see that the only thing you really have control on is energy in (Food), the rest is controlled in your metabolism. Ok, so now on to your questions:

1 - We burn food in the mitochondria. The by products are just like a traditional combustion reaction Food + O2 -> CO2 + H2O

2 - We can introconvert things, but all that matters is the starting and ending point. For example:

Food -> Fatty Acids Fatty Acids + O2 -> CO2 + H2O

So the first reaction is

E(Fatty Acids) - E(Food)

and the second reacation is

[ E(CO2) + E(H2O) ] - [ E(Fatty Acids) + E(O2) ]

Add those two reactions together, you'll see that the E(Fatty Acids) on both sides cancel out and you're left with

[ E(CO2) + E(H2O) ] - [ E(Food) + E(O2) ]

3 - Again, the only thing that matters is the starting and ending point. This would be best with a picture, but I don't have one right now. When you go from Food -> Energy, you need some "extra" energy to get started (go up a hill), then after the reaction gets started, you get that energy back plus more (go down a hill). Think of being at an elevation of 1000' with a rock (that's the E(Food)), you push that rock up a hill to 1100' (put some energy into the system), at the top of the hill you let the rock roll down the other side to 500' (that's the E(Energy) you get back. So you ended up getting some energy out of the system, the rock fell from 1000' to 500', but it didn't go until you pushed it up over the hill at 1100'. (That's your metabolic pathway). Now enzymes are special chemicals that help you out by lowering that hump you have to go over. An enzyme will lower the hump you have to go over, say to 1001' (now it's really easy for the reaction to happen). But it has NO effect over the end products or energy. Here's a good picture of that on wikipedia. The black line is the original reaction, the red line is what the enzyme does. But in the end, you started at the X,Y height and ended up at Z. What they call Ea is the activation energy, energy to get the reaction started. What they call DeltaG is what I called H, how much energy is released in the reaction. As you go along the X-axis from X,Y to Z that's the "reaction path" or in the body that would be the "metabolic pathyway".

4 - You don't need a study. But the type of food matters. When you eat food, it either goes to energy, poop, or stored in your fat cells. How that's partitioned depends on so many variables and we can't really control them, that's all controled by our bodies.

5 - No, energy is energy is energy, it's all interconvertible. In the world of physics and chemistry we can move energy around where we want. In our bodies, it's up to our horomones (for signalling) and enzymes (for lowering the hump), and lots of other stuff. All we can really control is what we put in as fuel.

Ok, that's enough for now, but I can add more if you have more questions. It's hard to do this without going into lots of thermodynamics, that you probably don't care about.

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 01, 2011
at 05:11 PM

Awesome answer. I wish I could upvote ten times.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4

(9647)

on June 01, 2011
at 06:40 PM

Yes, great answer, thanks for putting a lot of time and thought in.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on June 29, 2011
at 01:31 AM

Do you think this works for the formerly obese as well? I have been eating 90/95% Paleo and even raising my calories to 1400 made me gain weight. That was low carb / moderate carb.

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 29, 2011
at 03:44 AM

Melissa - short answer: yes. For the long answer, email me because 500 characters just isn't enough. (m i k e d e s k e v i c h at gmail.com)

510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on June 29, 2011
at 10:27 PM

Melissa - also wanted to add that, to me, 1400 cals seems really low, which means that your body is probably in conservation mode. upping the calories may temporarily cause a little weight gain because you're body is still conserving, but if they're good calories (i.e., not carbs - mct fats would be ideal), your body will start to burn "hotter" and should bounce back down to a good weight. I recognize that some people may have bad satiety meters, but I still maintain that caloric restriction is not a good long-term solution.

4
A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on May 31, 2011
at 09:58 PM

We measure the calories in food because that's what we know how to do - not because it makes sense. At the cellular level, it's how much ATP you can get out of something that matters. IIRC, its 34 ATP from 1 molecule of glucose and as much as 108 ATP from one fatty acid molecule (fatty acids vary quite a bit). The bulk of amino acids from protein are used to make more proteins such as enzymes or muscle tissue and are therefore not available as fuel. Some amino acids can be used directly in the krebs cycle to create ATP and some can be converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis (but energy is lost in the conversion). Fatty acids are also used as structural components of cell membranes (and other things) and so not all dietary fat is available as "fuel". And I don't know whether what the bacteria in your intestines are eating can be counted as caloric intake by you...

Sorry, excessive rambling... But I think Dr. Carlson is on to something.

B383982420d8cb1bfaace4f7fbc5d1e2

on June 01, 2011
at 06:39 AM

I think if we believe in using calories then we can also believe that eating a horse would give us 1 horse power energy...

B383982420d8cb1bfaace4f7fbc5d1e2

on June 01, 2011
at 06:27 AM

Thanks Dave, that is what I want to know more about. How does X amount of Calories tell us how many y amount of ATP would be created? also, is there any place where we "burn" food. If not, then calories are simply misleading. ~ LowcarbJC

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on June 01, 2011
at 04:42 PM

I agree -- so much dietary advice suffers from the bias of what can be measured, rather than what is important. Calories can be quantified and estimated, but health can't. The same is true of cholesterol numbers. Everyone should think of health as an overall picture rather than a few numbers.

1
D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

on June 01, 2011
at 04:24 PM

check out Robb Wolf podcast Episode 77 around the 28-30 minute mark. A nerd's dream of an explanation on a question similar to yours. Enjoy!

0
Ccd7069220b00df461df55be203a2294

on February 26, 2012
at 10:38 AM

thanks ppl, i really found it useful!!

0
Ea9559203fa70016dbf22f8be0eb151b

on June 07, 2011
at 12:52 PM

Great article - corresponds with what Dr. Carlson said :

http://bit.ly/feinmanoncalories

0
Ea9559203fa70016dbf22f8be0eb151b

on June 01, 2011
at 09:51 PM

Thanks for all the answers. I am going through each one of them in as much detail as possible the next few days. Appreciated.

0
C33e8c236e72d67c4b6c028401d23cce

(1884)

on June 01, 2011
at 04:56 PM

This site has some decent information on the subject. As with everything on the internet, take it for what it is.

http://mb-soft.com/public2/humaneff.html

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