Friday, September 25, 2009

Academic Standards

The inevitability of calories. All nutrition orbits around that star. But aside from a glaringly obvious relationship to thermodynamics, how much information does the term contain? Every doctor knows that the body is a mystery. Sure, science and all that. Get numbers on the problem. Metrics -- it’s like money … so good. But some people don’t get well, when all the numbers demand that they do.

Sometime in the nineteenth century they figured out there was such a thing as protein and fat and carbs, and how much heat was released from each when you burned it. No, really, it is important to know that. But it’s not something we should run our lives by. Since that time, we’ve learned a few more things. Like about hormones, say.

We keep using calories as if it were a meaningful concept because it’s a simple number that measures a real thing. That’s very good. But not all real things are meaningful. I have a book that gives brief biographies for the peers and nobles of Great Britain up until the mid 1860s. Is there some way of expressing useful nutritional information in a simple way? A grade? ORAC value, glycemic index, available energy content (with a nod to DIT and fiber)? Bioavailable protein? Bioavailable mineral content? Something where you don’t have to be a brain genius to be able to make a decision? Something where crafty marketers can’t up the score by dumping some vitamins and fiber into their cotton candy? -- like every breakfast cereal?

That’s a lot of info. Looks like a grade isn’t enough. A report card. That’s too much. Not easy. But we can’t just express it as a ratio, dry weight over calories. Sugar gets a grade of ¼. So does a granola bar. Hm. Broccoli is 29 grams over 98 calories. Call it 3/10. In other words, suger is 25%, broccoli is 30%. Does that seem reasonable? Because that’s what the current system thinks is important to tell us. As if 100 grams of one carb is the same as 100 grams of another. That’s just insane. Is my math right?

Point is, calories are like women. All the same.

Oh, is there something wrong with that idea? Not all women are the same? I hardly see how I, Jack H, sophisticated man of the world, could be wrong about this. But in the vanishingly small likelihood that I am wrong -- and the idea is both absurd and offensive to me -- maybe the world is wrong about calories. It’s just barely possible.

I might be getting sick. Bit of a sore throat. I ate two orders of fries last night, from In-N-Out. Just felt like it. So? Workout was very very poor tonight. I think another one this week might have been pretty bad. Maybe it was last week. It’s been a few years since I’ve been sick. Three, I think. I’m not sick. But it could happen. Depends what I eat. Now I'm going to have some popcorn. So?


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