The Body Series: In Which Wikipedia Becomes My Teacher


After I had my first-ever wake-up call concerning the caloric value of various foods, I got curious. 

Reaching way back into my memories of high-school chemistry, I tried to remember what I had learned about calories. Didn’t they have something to do with joules, which had something to do with energy? And is the calorie in chemistry the same kind of calorie in food? I didn’t know. 

So I turned to the workaday teacher of all things ever: Wikipedia. 

There, I learned the calories in food are also referred to as food energy — and that when the nutrients in food react with oxygen in our cells, energy is released. 

I learned that our metabolism is what allows us to grow and reproduce, maintain our structure, and respond to our environment. 

I learned that enzymes are essential to our metabolism because without them, certain things that need to happen in our bodies will not happen of their own accord. Enzymes are required to create the reaction that’s needed to make those things happen. 

I learned that pretty much our whole body is made up of either amino acids (proteins), carbohydrates, and lipids (fats) — that they are vital for life — and so this is why we need to take these materials into our bodies: so that our bodies can be sustained. 

I learned that most proteins are enzymes which, as I had just learned, are essential for our metabolism because they create reactions our bodies need in order to keep functioning. This is why, I realized, proteins are so important to the diet. 

I learned that a vitamin is something our bodies need but our cells can’t make themselves. This is why consuming foods with essential vitamins or taking vitamins directly as supplements is so helpful to our bodies. 

I learned that proteins play other helpful roles in our bodies besides serving as enzyme catalysts in our metabolism. They also replicate our DNA, help us respond to stimuli, and transport our molecules from one location to another. These things won’t happen in our bodies if we don’t take in protein. What’s more, proteins participate in pretty much every function within our cells. 

I learned that carbohydrates do not help build other molecules in our bodies and that our bodies can obtain all their needed energy from protein and fats — although, of course, the body does use carbohydrates, when they’re present, to burn fuel for the body. Also, no carbohydrate provides an essential nutrient to the body, and our bodies cannot metabolize all forms of carbohydrates. 

I learned that nutrients are chemicals that organisms (like us) need to live and grow. 

In other words, I learned a few things:  

  • If I want to live and grow, I need nutrients. 
  • Some nutrients won’t be produced by my body all on its own, so I need outside sources (like certain foods and vitamins) to get them.
  • Protein is especially important to my diet because it is involved in pretty much everything my body needs to do, not the least of which are the chemical reactions that make up my metabolism.
  • I need to care about my metabolism because it’s what allows me to keep functioning in all the ways I’m meant to function in the world (growing, reproducing, maintaining a bodily structure, responding to my environment). 
  • Carbohydrates are the least essential part of the human diet (at least, from what I can tell).  

All of this led me to think some more about formation, which I’ll share more about with you tomorrow …