How calories work: The Thermic Effects of Food
Optimal human food source:
– non-starchy vegetables
– healthy fat sources
-1g protein: 4 calories
-1g carbohydrate: 4 calories
-1g fat: 9 calories
We’ve been taught to count calories with the intention of keeping a number below a certain arbitrary line. If we reach this ‘magical’ number; then we will be able to lose, gain, or maintain a certain body weight. This is only half true. Especially when someone is in the mood to sell you access to the next instant body image make-over plan.
The truth: How our bodies metabolize protein, fat and carbohydrates depends on the source of these nutrients. This metabolic process has been labeled the “Thermic Effect of Food” (TEF). The bonus of understanding how Calories function can be used as a tool to burn Calories while doing no extra physical activities.
What’s A Calorie
A Calorie, aka unit of energy, is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree of Celsius.
The Calories we get from food are then converted into the energy we need to do work. Food Calories are the body’s power potential. Eating has a specific purpose: to attain energy. The conversion of food from potential energy to power takes place through the digestive systems metabolic process.
The Digestive Process -> Metabolic Process
Picture a complex machine composed of multiple modules. Let’s call the first module in the machine the digestive system and the second module the metabolic process. This second module (metabolic process) also uses smaller modules (enzymes) to break energy (food) into even smaller modules (molecules) needed to energize our complex machine (body).
The best mental image of the digestive process is to imagine a set of Russian Dolls. Lift the top off the first doll and you have smaller doll on the inside. Lifting the top off each doll will display a smaller doll until you finally get to the last tiny doll at the end. This is a perfect illustration of how food metabolism functions.
Converting large modules into smaller modules:
-Carbohydrates convert to glucose
-Fats convert to glycerol and fatty acids
-Proteins convert to amino acids
After stored energy (food) passes through the larger modules (digestive system) these smaller modules (molecules) are then transported through a network (bloodstream) to other modules (cells) in the machine (body) either to be used or stored as energy (fat). The goal being to maintain enough calories to keep the body in a state of energy balance.
Thermic Effect of Food
The food we eat for energy must be digested first. The process of digestion needs a source of energy to function. This module is known as the thermic effect of food. Basically this module needs energy (Calories) to digest, absorb, and dispose of the energy (food) ****insert img of furnace with fire***. The quality of food determines how much energy is needed for the functions of this module.
The key to understanding how the thermic effect of food modules functions is to understand the way our machines (body) metabolizes energy (Calories).
For example, the required amount of energy (Calories) my body uses to digest a piece of celery (real whole food) is more energy (Calories) than the celery actually has available. What happens to my body when I eat these types of food (whole food sources) is I end up burning calories to digest the food I just ate.
Lets use another example to visualize the thermic effects of food. Compare the amount of energy consumed when I drink a Large Mocha Latte. Since the Large Mocha Latte usually contains highly processed ingredients. These types of foods(highly processed food) require little energy (Calories) to digest and metabolize. The energy (Calories) from the Large Mocha Latte is used for machine maintenance (vital body functions) and the rest is stored as potential energy (body fat).
The easiest way to manipulate the look and feel of your body is to have an understanding of how Calories work and how they are used as energy. When I find myself falling back to old nutritional habits I always go back to first principles of food nutrition : the energy needed to digest non-starchy vegetables and meat will require more energy (potential weight loss) than drinking a Large Mocha Latte (potential weight gain).