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"A calorie is a calorie" is a tautology used to convey the speaker's conviction that the concept of the "calorie" is in fact a sufficient way to describe energy content of food.
It has been a commonly cited truism since the early 1960s. The tautological phrase means that regardless of the form of food calorie a person consumes (whether a carbohydrate, protein or fat calorie) the energy chemically extracted from the food, or the work necessary to burn such a calorie, is identical to any other. One dietary calorie contains 4.184 kilojoules of energy. With this knowledge, it is easy to assume that all calories have equal value.
In 1878, German nutritionist Max Rubner crafted what he called the "isodynamic law". The law claims that the basis of nutrition is the exchange of energy, and was applied to the study of obesity in the early 1900s by Carl von Noorden. Von Noorden had two theories about what caused people to develop obesity. The first simply avowed Rubner's notion that "a calorie is a calorie". The second theorized that obesity development depends on how the body partitions calories for either use or storage. Since 1925, a calorie has been defined in terms of the joule. The definition of a calorie changed in 1948, which became one calorie is equal to approximately 4.2 joules.
The related concept of "calorie in, calorie out" is contested and despite having become a commonly held and frequently referenced belief in nutritionism, the implications associated with "a calorie is a calorie" are still being debated. The wisdom and effects of skipping meals in an attempt to limit caloric intake is also still largely debated.
Calorie amounts found on food labels are based on the Atwater system. The accuracy of the system is disputed, despite no real proposed alternatives. For example, a 2012 study by a USDA scientist concluded that the measured energy content of a sample of almonds was 32% lower than the estimated Atwater value. Furthermore, it is known that some calories are lost in waste, without ever having been chemically converted or stored. The driving mechanism behind caloric intake is absorption, which occurs largely in the small intestine and distributes nutrients to the circulatory and lymphatic capillaries by means of osmosis, diffusion and active transport. Fat, in particular is emulsified by bile produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder where it is released to the small intestine via the bile duct. A relatively lesser amount of absorption, composed primarily of water, occurs in the large intestine.
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