In short, yes, they do. But the question itself is incorrect. The correct question would rather be: “How do the calories that I consume affect the ability of my body to accumulate and burn fat?” And this question directly implies another: “Do I need to count calories?” In short, no, it is not necessary. But you will want to read this article completely to be sure.
1. Calorie Definition
Calorie is a measure of the amount of heat. According to the official definition, a calorie is the amount of heat that is needed to heat 1 gram of water per degree Celsius at standard atmospheric pressure. 1000 calories is one kilocalorie or 1 kcal for short. This is where the confusion begins. Most people use the terms “calories” and “calories” interchangeably.
So, when someone says that “one gram of fat is 9 calories,” in fact, this means 9 kilocalories. It is important to remember that the calorie (or calories) is an indicator of how much energy you get after your body burns the food you eat. Sometime this way, with the help of a special device – a calorimeter, people found out the calorie content in various foods. Moreover, in scientific studies, during which it is necessary to determine the exact amount of food consumed, the energy value of food is measured in this way to this day. As a rule, 1 gram of carbohydrate contains from 3 to 4 kcal; the same kcal contains 1 gram of protein; 1 gram of fat contains about 9 kcal.
If you are wondering why fats contain more heat energy than carbohydrates or proteins, this is due to the fact that they contain more high-energy compounds. Fats are mainly composed of carbon-hydrogen and carbon-carbon compounds that contain the most energy. These compounds are also present in carbohydrates and proteins, but their thermal energy is “diluted” by less energy-intensive oxygen and nitrogen compounds.
2. Basics of Thermodynamics
Now is the time to recall the main points from my previous article, in which I again return to the causes of obesity. In addition, in this article I consider how the first law of thermodynamics explains the accumulation and burning of fat. I repeat, the first law of thermodynamics states that the change in the internal energy of a closed thermodynamic system is equal to the difference between the amount of heat received and the amount of heat that was spent. If you apply this law to the process of fat accumulation, you get the following picture:
Change in fat mass = Energy consumed minus energy spent
People like me who are in favor of the Alternative Hypothesis are unjustly criticized by those who lack the patience (and, perhaps, knowledge) to listen to all arguments before frantically waving their arms and shouting that we are breaking the first law of thermodynamics.
I want to be very clear to avoid accusations that I believe that the Earth is flat. Nothing that I am going to explain now, including the Alternative Hypothesis, does not violate the first law of thermodynamics.
3. Common Belief
According to the common belief, you gain weight when you eat more than you spend. This is true, but only partially. The absolute truth is that in order to gain weight, you must definitely consume more than you spend. See the difference? It is small, but very important – perhaps more important than anything else, about which I will write further. According to the first statement, overeating led to weight gain. According to the second statement, if you gained weight, then you overeat, but perhaps there is some factor that led to overeating.
If you are a supporter of the generally accepted belief, then you, of course, believe in counting calories and that counting calories (and reducing their number) is the only way to lose weight.
4. What’s the catch?
Most (but not all) supporters of generally accepted belief believe in counting calories because they do not take into account one very important nuance. Proponents of generally accepted belief believe that in the above equation, which explains the first law of thermodynamics, the variables to the right of the equal sign are independent variables.
Let me explain the difference between independent and dependent variables. As the name implies, independent variables can change independently of each other, while dependent variables vary with each other. I will give a couple of examples to make it easier to understand:
- The weather and my mood are dependent variables. When the weather changes from dark to sunny, my mood improves. And vice versa – when the weather changes from sunny to gloomy, my mood deteriorates. In this case, the dependence is one-sided. My mood does not affect the weather.
- My facial expression and my interaction with people are dependent variables. When I smile, communication with people is positive. When I like to communicate with people, I often smile. In this case, the relationship is bilateral.
- My height (while I was still growing) and the length of my hair are independent variables. They can change independently of each other.
How does this relate to the first law of thermodynamics?
Let’s add some specifics to the first law of thermodynamics:
The change in our fat mass is equal to the difference between what we eat and drink (this is the only way energy can penetrate our system) and the energy we consume .
Now we will add even more clarity to the part of the equation that deals with the energy that we spend. We spend energy on: digestion (the energy that is needed to break down food, plus the undigested remains that are removed from our body), exercise (everyone knows what it is, but I usually distinguish between exercise and daily activity, because people tend to focus on precisely on the exercises), daily activities (activities that we perform during the day and which are not related to exercises), basic metabolism (energy that we spend in a state of rest).
Let me clarify something before we go any further. The list of types of activity for which we spend energy can be different. I did it my way, but you can do it differently.
The first law of thermodynamics works only when you take into account all the incoming and outgoing system (that is, your body) energy.
Let us return for a moment to the question of dependent and independent variables. If you look at the above equation and assume that the variable in the red box does not affect the variables in the green box and vice versa, it turns out that energy consumption and energy consumption are independent variables. However, this is not the case, and that is why the problem of energy balance is so annoying. The picture below gives a more accurate idea of what is happening in our body in fact (although this is a gross simplification, I will briefly describe the reasons later).
What you eat really changes how you spend energy. And just the way you spend energy affects what (and how) you eat. To be even more accurate: what you eat affects what you eat in the future . Also, an increase (or decrease) in size will affect how your body spends energy.
Thus, this diagram should have much more arrows (I showed only two: what you eat affects how you spend energy, and vice versa). If I had drawn all the arrows, the diagram would have gotten out of control.
I am not telling you anything that you yourself did not already know, although it may seem so. When you exercise, your appetite grows compared to when you do not exercise. When you eat high-carbohydrate foods, you will want to eat faster than when you eat foods that are high in protein or fat, as high-carbohydrate foods are less saturated.
5. Alternative Hypothesis
If you, like me, are not a supporter of generally accepted convictions , you should at least have an Alternative Hypothesis about how things work.
An alternative hypothesis is:
Obesity is a dysplasia, just like other growth dysfunctions. More specifically, obesity is a disorder that leads to excess fat accumulation. Fat accumulation is not due to the balance between the calories received and spent, but the effect of specific nutrients on the hormonal regulation of fat metabolism. Obesity is a condition where the body prefers to accumulate fat rather than use it.
How is the Alternative Hypothesis different from the Common Belief ? According to the generally accepted belief that it doesn’t matter what you eat, only the number of calories is important. If you consume more calories than you spend, you gain weight. The last part is true, but the first part is not. According to the Alternative Hypothesis, what you eat is VALUE, and the point is not the energy value of food.
Let me give you an example.
Take a look at these substances with high energy value. The energy value of these substances is presented in kilojoules, which we, as a rule, use to denote specific energy intensity. I converted kilojoules to kilocalories, which are commonly used to denote the energy value of food. [1 kJoule is 240 calories (not kilocalories), so 1 kilojoule is approximately 0.24 kcal, therefore, 1 kJ / gram is approximately 0.24 kcal / 1 gram].
I highlighted four products that we usually eat: fat (olive oil) – 8.9 kcal / gram; alcohol – 7 kcal / g, starch – 4.1 kcal / g, protein – 4 kcal / g.
I also will include substances that contain chemical energy: liquid fuels (for example, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, coal and gunpowder). It’s hard to imagine our world without these chemical products.
A quick glance at the values, in terms of calorie density suggests that eating olive oil will contribute more weight gain than eating starch, because it contains more calories per gram if you agree with the current dogma.
But the same logic also suggests that coal will be more nutritious than starch, and gunpowder less nutritious than ethanol. Gasoline will be more nutritious than jet fuel. Hmmm Anyone interested in testing this hypothesis (personally)? I’ll probably skip this experiment. Why? For the same reason as you, because you know well that there are far more important consequences of consuming diesel fuel or inhaling gunpowder than their relative energy density.
All substances in this list are organic molecules, consisting mainly of the following four elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. I do not want to bore everyone with the lessons of organic chemistry, but it is the actual bonds between these atoms that are responsible for their energy density. For example, when you “release” the bond between carbon and hydrogen, you release a tremendous amount of chemical energy. This table shows how much energy you will get if you break the bond in these molecules, but that is all she says to you. You can’t know just by looking at this table whether the jet fuel is more paraffin than diesel, or whether gasoline has more isomerization than propane. And you, of course, do not know, from the information contained in this table, how each of these substances will affect hormones,
Does it have to do with our body that olive oil has about the same energy density (that is, calories) as biodiesel? Or, more appropriately, that the consumption of olive oil has a completely different effect on the body than the consumption of biodiesel, regardless of the calories contained in them? Obviously, the consumption of the same caloric amounts of olive oil in comparison with biodiesel will have a very big difference in the effect on our body. Why, then, is it difficult to estimate or accept the fact that quantities of olive oil and rice of equal caloric value can also have very different effects on our body?
Let’s go back to the question that you wanted to answer. Do calories matter and need to be counted?
Of course, the energy value of food matters, but much more important is how various foods affect our bodies. Can the calories we get create conditions in our body where we want to consume more energy than we spend? Can the calories we get create the conditions in which our body is more likely to accumulate excess nutrients than to use fat? This is a choice that we make every time we put something in our mouth.
Our body is a complex and dynamic system with a large number of feedback circuits than the Tianhe-1 supercomputer . This means that if two people can eat the same amount of food and do the same amount of exercise, but gain a different amount of fat. Does this mean that the first law of thermodynamics is violated? Of course not.
Similarly, genetically identical twins can follow a diet with different amounts of macronutrients (that is, different amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates), but with the same amount of calories, perform the same amount of exercise, and gain different amounts of fat. Does this violate the first law of thermodynamics? Not.
What you eat (along with factors such as, for example, genetics) affects how your body distributes and stores fat. If suddenly one of the readers wonders how I managed to write 2,000 words and never mention the word with the letter “I”, do not be surprised. Insulin, one of the factors affecting these processes, plays a key role. If you eat foods that greatly increase insulin levels and increase the insulin resistance of your cells, your body will be more likely to accumulate fat rather than use it. Remember the great medical inconsistencies – no one discusses the fact that insulin is the most important hormone that causes fat to accumulate in fat cells. But for some reason everyone is discussing THAT leads to the fact that people (which consist of billions of fat cells) are gaining fat.
Not all calories are the same
The energy value of food matters, but the metabolic effects of various foods on our bodies are much more important .