We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Energy Economics Behind Food Digestion

Since digestion takes energy, it is helpful to think about the "cost to revenue ratio" (fuel efficiency) of foods that we eat

We all realize on some level that food is very similar to a drug. When hunger sets in, withdrawal symptoms become apparent. Confusion, decreased mental functioning, weakness, nausea, unpleasant moods, negative perception of the world/humanity, etc. When we finally get a chance to eat again, what we all want is for the molecular building blocks within food to reach and become part of our key bodily systems as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are simple mathematics behind digesting fuel that should be kept in mind.

Digestion takes caloric energy. Eating food drains us to a degree that is dependent on the resistance of the food to intestinal acids. If the food is more difficult to digest it'll take more bodily energy to break it into molecular building blocks for the body. This in turn will result in one's body not operating at peak levels. Here's 2 examples to illustrate (the numbers are randomly selected for clear cut demonstration):

A) A deep fried blob of meat is stuffed with 1000 units of energy and it takes the body 500 units of energy to break it down over a period of 5 hours. This produces an average of 100 units of energy per hour for the body over 5 hours (1000-500)/5. The average ratio of energy cost to revenue is 1 to 2. If this food is dumped into a ravenous energy deprived body, then energy will be pulled from other areas of the body to begin the digestion. This will be manifest with muscle tiredness, coldness (energy diverted from heating systems to the stomach), and even lack of tangible cognitive improvement within first hour after eating. Thus the initial ratio of energy cost to revenue can even cancel each other out. Not the drug "fix" one is looking for. We want to squeeze more out of our business.

B) A bowl of cold quinoa salad with various nuts and berries is only stuffed with 500 units of energy. It takes 100 units of energy to digest it over 1 hour. Body gets 400 units of energy in this time. Ratio of energy cost to revenue here is 1 to 5. Since the powerful acids in the stomach can immediately rip apart the cold salad into building blocks, this means a rapid huge boost of energy from acceleration of cognitive and physical functioning. Molecular building blocks are quickly transported via blood stream to reinforce every key system in the body. The negatives of such a quick and efficient fix is that the energy high wears off after an hour leading to rather rapid onset of hunger and noticeable physiological slowdown. The business is very profitable but has to be fed at a breakneck rate that is not always sustainable.

Proper utilization of energy economics in food can allow an individual to achieve the equivalent of a coffee boost (from nutritious food that has weak cell lining allowing the body to make short work of it). Our bodies are the most complex wonderful machines we have access to. Do we put nasty poorly treated gasoline into a high end sports car? No, since we understand that it requires immediate high performance. An advanced jet airplane requires specialized jet fuel for maximum ratio of energy cost to revenue.

So why do many people treat their bodies worse than they treat their cars? Besides the socioeconomic factors behind it, there are also practical considerations. Food that is less efficient to digest has a release of energy that can be described as "extended release" in pharmacological terminology. A slice of pepperoni pizza will provide hours of inefficiently acquired energy. Of course if one has a powerful metabolism, one can pump lots of high energy inefficient food into the system and even get a caloric rush after some digestion has already occurred. Combined with the fact that such foods are often solid liquor buffers, it becomes a no brainer. Fuel like quinoa will not only be a poor buffer but its effects will constantly and annoyingly run out. Nobody wants to carry a grain basket with them. Of course in the long term, the heavy fuel will corrode/clog up the system and become increasingly counterproductive as the human machine is now expanding energy units to support heavier weight with all the health ailments associated with it.

However when it comes to day to day life and wanting to be at peak cognitive and emotional levels, digestive efficiency has to be kept in mind. Proper combination of the two types of fuel can result in relatively quick onset of good cheer and solid functioning (energy release from say, quinoa being immediately rerouted to help neutralize weakening from digestion of heavy fuel) without a crash or desire for an afternoon siesta.

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