How Nutrition Scientists Count Calories

Calorie Counting is a mystery to most of us, making it even more difficult than it already is to lose weight. However, the nutrition scientists have the art of calorie counting down to a science, literally, as all scientists should. Here is how they come up with those frustrating numbers we all see on packages of food.

Nutrition scientists actually burn each food item in order to determine how many calories are in the food. The burning of the food is something like what happens in our bodies when we eat it. The body’s metabolism “burns” the foods we eat to turn it into the heat and energy we need to stay alive-much like how a car burns gasoline.

Nutrition scientist burn food items in a container called a bomb calorimeter. This bomb calorimeter has two chambers, one within the other. The outer chamber is filled with a very carefully measured quantity of cold water. The inner chamber is the burn chamber. The scientist places the food, which has been very carefully weighed, on a dish inside the chamber, then pumps a quantity of oxygen inside of the chamber. After the oxygen is pumped into the burn chamber, the chamber is sealed to keep the oxygen out from getting out of the container. The oxygen itself is lit using an electrical spark. Just the right concentration of oxygen will ignite easily, in turn igniting the food item.

The food item will burn whether it is something that easily burns or not. The heat from the burning food raises the temperature of the water in the outside chamber. There is a thermometer in the outside chamber, which measures the temperature of the water in the measurement known as Centigrade, also known as Celsius. An observer records the temperature data. If the water goes up 1 degree for every kilogram of water, then there is 1 kilocalorie, or 1,000 calories in that amount of food. If the water’s temperature goes up 2 degrees Centigrade, then there are 2 kilocalories, or 2,000 calories in that amount of the food item. You get the idea, for every 1 degree Celsius the water goes up, the food has 1,000 calories, or one kilocalorie.

The above way is by far the most accurate way to count calories, but there is one other way that is far less costly-and far less dangerous, as there is no fire involved, only math. Nutrition scientists know the caloric value of many things such as fat, carbohydrates, protein, etc. For example, 1 gram of fat has 9 calories in it, 1 gram of protein has 4 calories in it, and 1 gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories in it. The nutrition scientist has to figure out exactly how much of these things there are anyway, so the process to count the calories is as simple as adding all of the known caloric values together to come up with a very close calorie count. However, this is far from perfectly accurate, and we all know how scientists like to be accurate.

Now you know just how scientists come by the calorie counts we all see on the packages of food we buy daily. Don’t try this at home, as it is dangerous and far too costly.

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