We Are Energy Processing Machines
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 3, 2021 (edited June 10, 2022)
Empty calories are from from foods that provide little or no nutrition. We need much more than a calorie to function.
We are energy processing machines. Our bodies decay, slowly moving towards the grave. We slow this process through consumption, borrowing life by absorbing external energy—calories. Not all consumption is equal. Some foods provide plenty of calories but little nutrition. We may enjoy a slight energy boost in the short run but the energy is void of nutrition. The calories are empty.
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. All foods contain calories—fats, proteins, carbohydrates. Our bodies need calories to function. We need calories for metabolic functions (the beating of our heart, the intaking of air into our lungs). We need calories to run, think, and feel. Everything we do requires energy. We are calorie processing machines consuming and burning units of energy—the calorie.
Are All Calories the Same?
We may ask ourselves, "if calorie and consumption and burning are the basics of weight loss does it matter if I consume my daily allotment of calories from broccoli or pizza?"
This is a fair question. According the laws of thermodynamics, a calorie is just a calorie—a unit of energy. "The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed." Our bodies don't create the energy, they metabolize energy, consuming foodstuffs and then transforming it into heat. (Buchholz & Schoeller, 2004).
Our bodies are amazing in many ways. However, they are not perfectly predictable. Available energy from a food is not the same as the gross amount of calories metabolized. Some foods, such as simple sugars, break down quick and are absorbed into the body, other foods, require more digestive work before transforming into usable energy or passing through our system completely.
An empty calorie is a calorie that provides little or no nutrition beyond the unit of energy.
Our Bodies Need Nutrients
Our bodies function more efficiently when proper water, nutrients and vitamins are consumed. Many diets supply an abundance of calories and insufficient nutrients. These diets slow body functions. Our organs, bones and muscles suffer.
Too little nutrients and abundance of calories often lead to disease, inflammation, and long term damage to our bodies and mind. A well balanced diet also speeds up metabolism.
Empty Calories and Disease
Empty calorie food and beverage consumption has been linked to an increased likelihood of chronic diseases (eg. type 2 diabetes) (Lin et al. 2020).
Which Foods Provide Empty Calories?
The largest supply of empty calories can be found in simple carbohydrates. Simply eliminating simple carbohydrates from your diet usually leads to significant weight loss.
Empty high calorie drinks are the main culprit for weight gain. Sodas, juices, and energy drinks (even Gatorade) are loaded with calories, quickly absorb into our system and provide little else. Water, tea and low sugar replacements are effective ways to eliminate these nasty empty calories.
Another dangerous contributor to empty calories is sweets. Candies and refined baked goods taste wonderful but contribute to a vast array of illness and provide little or no nutrients. Avoid the cakes, cookies, and simple carb cereals. Replace these imposters with whole grain replacements.
Foods Loaded with Nutrients
The list of healthy foods should not be a surprise to most. We need a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, proteins (fish, chicken, beans, nuts), and healthy fats (fish, olive oil, avocados).
By eating a variety of nutrient dense foods, we supply our bodies with the necessary ingredients for mind and body wellness. Make those calories count and your energy processing machine will delightfully function, bringing many blessing now and for the years to come. Eat well. Live healthy.
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Buchholz, A.C., & Schoeller, D.A. (2004). Is a calorie a calorie?. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(5),
Lin, T., Park, C., Kapella, M., Martyn-Nemeth, P., Tussing-Humphreys, L., Rospenda, K., & Zenk, S. (2020). Shift work relationships with same- and subsequent-day empty calorie food and beverage consumption. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 46(6), 579-588.