Watt’s a Calorie?

Abbott and Costello did a “What’s a volt” bit like their “Who’s on first” routine. It was shorter. Lou asks, “What’s a volt?” and Bud, too involved with the conversations of adults in the room, nods and says, “Yeah,” hearing watts instead of what’s. Lou could have asked “What’s a Calorie?” and Bud could have given the same nodding affirmation and sent his partner into the same fuming rage. Technically, a watt is a measure of power and a calorie (lower case) is a measure of energy. Time is the primary difference between the two. Search watts to calories and you find lots of conversion calculators, and unless you’re smarter than I am, they’ll leave you slapping yourself just like Bud’s answer did for poor Lou. Plus, a Calorie (upper case) is a thousand lower case calories–thank you, scientists, for further confusing a already bewildering issue! Before I finished my research for I Town I thought a calorie was a number that related a food to weight gainThe Calories in the food we eat are much less mysterious to me now, and much more meaningful.

200caloriesLook at the nutritional info on any packaged food. Multiply the grams of protein and carbohydrates by four. Multiply the grams of fat by nine. Add the result and you’ll have the total number of calories. Knowing the total calorie content of a food tells you almost nothing about what your body will do with the food. Proteins, fats and carbs are different kinds of molecules and serve different functions in the body, just like trees, petroleum, and sunlight are possible sources of energy. But we consume them differently and can do different things with them. We make houses out of trees. We propel cars with petroleum, but we can also run our cars with trees if we burn them to turn water into steam. We can turn petroleum into plastic and make construction material out of it. It’s a lot simpler to build with wood and use petroleum for fuel, at least with our current resources and facilities and for the purpose of the point I’m making. Our bodies are very similar.

If you’ve ever counted calories you’ve done the equivalent of trying to add 2x4s and gallons of gasoline into a single total. If you need to get to work and only have lumber, good luck getting your minivan to eat it. If a storm is coming, five gallons of gas won’t do nearly as much to protect you as four solid walls. (Don’t bring up asphalt shingles here. It’s my blog and my metaphor, and I set its limits.)

If you’re watching what you’re eating and trying to control your weight, you need to make sure you’re giving your body the balance it needs. If you’re exercising but not providing your body with more carb (fuel) than protein (machinery) calories, you won’t be able to build muscle. It’s like providing your construction crew with all the diesel but no equipment. Muscle will help burn more calories in the future. (A future post will discuss why we’re more apt to continue rather than change a current weight trend.)  Cutting back on carbs puts your body in a state of burning its building materials. Fat calories are great energy sources and provide essential metabolic functions carb and proteins calories can’t and won’t accomplish.

There are several web sources that help explain this in better and simpler terms than I can. My favorite is freediet.com. Info about the different type of calories is explained at nutristrategy.com.  Nutritiondata.self.com offers a great graphic view of nutritional contents of foods. I hope this helps enlighten your diet. It certainly helped me improve my eating habits.

Coming soon in this category: “Don’t verb diet.” If you’re up on your Calvin and Hobbs you get that one.

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