Column: What’s a calorie? Let me jog your memory!

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Our columnist Richard Oliff remembers the science behind his eating in this week’s column...

The younger we are the quicker we tend to burn energy, or at least that was the theory, as I would go cross country running in the 1960s or run all the way from Thoroughsale Road to my friend’s house on Corby’s Woodlands Avenue in the 1970s.

It was my dad who introduced me to an abbreviation that became somewhat of a household ‘saying’, so much so that I remember it to this day.

“Why don’t I gain weight dad?” I would sometimes ask, having spent the best part of 90 minutes playing five-a-side football in the school gymnasium.

“It’s your ‘metabs’, son,” he would invariably reply.

Metabs? Of course, he meant metabolism, yet that was quite different from a calorific calculation.

I remember our science master, Mr Thomas, or Taffy as he was affectionately known, once teaching us the definition of calories, and how they really do ‘burn’ when put to the test.

Looking back, all I can remember was the very first bit of the result, having not thought of it in nearly 50 years - ‘A calorie is the amount of heat required...’ And that’s it.

Following further research, I meant to say that ‘a calorie is the amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gramme of water one-degree Celsius that is equal to about 4.19 joules’.

Then I have to ask myself, what is meant by ‘joules’, apart, that is, from a distinctive line of quality clothing emanating from Market Harborough.

Apparently, it’s ‘a unit of work or energy equal to the work done by a force of one Newton acting through a distance of one metre’.

So, what’s a Newton? Well, seemingly, it’s ‘the unit of force in the metre-kilogramme-second system equal to the force required to impart an acceleration of one metre per second to a mass of one kilogramme’.

Well, they don’t tell you all of that on a packet of crisps!