Energetics of Food
The natural law of conservation of energy is worth repeating here. This universal law of physics states that energy is neither created nor destroyed. To see energy in this context, it can only be transferred between sources. This law applies directly to our foods and to the energy that we extract from this transference.
Imagine an apple. An apple, or any other type of food, is made up of molecules -- collections and combinations of atoms. Atoms serve as the universe’s building blocks. The atoms are held together with electromagnetic atomic bonds within the molecules. These bonds all require an amount of energy to be formed as the atoms were combined. They release equivalent amounts of energy as the bonds are broken apart.
This energy stored in an apple was transferred from somewhere else. It is a product of photons of light from the sun. Energy pulled from the molecular bonds of water, and the organic matter found in soil and fertilizers. Molecules in the apple have combined to form the macronutrients known as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. An apple is high in the molecules that make up fiber and fruit sugars, while many legumes and meats are high in proteins. Avocados have a high fat content. The macronutrient composition of a food just depends on the nature of the food’s molecular compositions.
Similar to a round boulder that has been pushed up to the top of a hill, these energetic bonds represent potential energy. Energy that is stored in a resting, waiting state. An apple hanging from a tree is releasing no energy. There is no transference of energy aside from the gain of energy as the apple grows.
But once the apple makes it into our body, our digestive and enzymatic pathways are specially formulated to break these energetic bonds. To liberate the energy in our food and give the proverbial boulder a “push.” The boulder dissipates its energy as heat, destruction and noise as it tumbles down the hill. Our metabolic systems are more controlled and refined, using the energy to heat our bodies, and power our muscles, heart and minds.
In nature, all living creatures utilize foods to obtain the energy required to run their metabolic processes. But with so many natural processes, there is a “sweet spot” of nutrient types, composition and amounts.
We can leave this discussion for another post, because there is not a conclusive consensus on what makes up the ideal human diet. It may be that our individual genetics are wired for certain subtle discrepancies in diet, influenced by millennia of bathing a related set of genes in a particular region, landscape, culture and environment. But there is little debate among medical professionals that the human body was not intended to run well on Ding-Dongs, Hershey’s bars and Coca-Cola.
So the purpose of food is to provide the energy required for our metabolic machinery to work. As found in all natural systems, the energy to power a microbe or a man has to come from another source.
It is also important to recall that as humans, we cannot escape this natural process. At the time of our death, the molecular energy maintained in our cells becomes a part of this transference. As we return to the Earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, we too return our stored energy to the biological systems that will use it. Transferring our energy to the bacteria in the soil and roots of the trees growing overhead.
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Dr. Scott Resnick