How We Get Energy from Food | A Natural Process in Body

Food is a vital necessity for all humans and animals to live.

It is also true that all of us strive every day to achieve our food.

But why is food necessary? And why do we feel hunger?

We feel hunger because it is a body’s call to replenish or restore the reserved food.

The food inside the body is used for the supply of energy.

So what we ate previously gives us energy now, and what we eat now gives us energy for the body’s next requirement.

But the body has a very alert mechanism to use the food resources very scarcely. This helps us survive in times of lack of food.

When we eat food, it releases into the blood the reserve supply of glucose from the liver.

The blood carries this glucose to provide instant energy to the body.

But if we don’t have food, it releases very scarcely, and hence we feel weak and lethargic.

How we get Energy from Food

It is well described in biochemistry;

In short, we can say that food is broken down into basic units like glucose. This glucose is converted to energy in the cell mitochondria.

1. Food breaks down to glucose, amino acids, and fats in the digestive system.

2. The Glucose molecules reach the cells and tissues through the blood. In the cells, food breaks down to produce ATP.

How we get Energy from Food-by drinks

This ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is the end energy molecule.

There are many intermediary steps between glucose and ATP formation, outlined at the bottom.

We will concentrate on the basics of how this energy is formed here.

Glucose is a carbohydrate (CH2O), which means it has carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and Oxygen (O) in the structure. This structure is formed in the plants by the process called photosynthesis.

This photosynthesis is a process happening in the green leaves under the influence of sunlight. The light energy from sunlight is captured to form carbohydrates by using carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

So, in other words, we can say that the energy (photons) from the sun is captured in carbohydrate form. When we eat these carbohydrates in sugar, starch (potato), etc., this energy is released into the body cells.

Glucose, the finest carbohydrate molecule, is broken down in cells into smaller forms. These forms are then converted by mitochondria (one of the cell organelles) into energy (ATP).

The carbohydrate molecules are broken down back into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) during this conversion.

So we breathe out the above-released CO2 by the lungs, and the urine excretes water.

On the contrary, the plants breath in CO2 from leaves and absorb water through roots to form these carbohydrates.

Thus energy from sunlight is taken by plants and given to us. In this process, CO2 and H2O are involved as principal intermediates.

How food is converted to energy the procedure in detail

1) The food we eat consists of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc.

This gets digested in the gut to glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids, respectively. These biomolecules get absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut.

2) This glucose in the blood is absorbed into every tissue and the cells with Insulin’s support.

3) Inside the cell, glucose breaks down into two molecules of acetyl-CoA.

4) These Acetyl-CoA molecules enter into mitochondria and undergo a process called KREB’s cycle.

5) There, each acetyl-CoA produces 2 more molecules of ATP by breaking down into the water (H2O) & carbon dioxide (CO2).

AMP (adenosine monophosphate) or ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate) in the presence of energy from food are converted to ATP (Adenosine Tri-phosphate).

Energy from food must be transformed into Phosphate bonds.

Overall, each glucose molecule produces 32 ATP in our body.

6) This ATP acts as energy and fuels all the body movements, processes, and biochemical reactions.

  • Glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen. Even the amino acids that help in building protein and fatty acids are also stored. The action of the insulin hormone facilitates this.
  • In case of need, glycogen in the liver breaks down to glucose and is released into the blood. This is facilitated by the hormone glucagon released from the pancreas.

Thus food is converted to energy in our body by the breakdown of glucose from it. This happens in the presence of oxygen inside the mitochondria.

So mitochondria are called powerhouses of our body cells.

The oxygen required for the production of energy is captured from the lungs by the blood.

Oxygen is needed immediately and continuously, while glucose is produced even from the reserve supply.

Also, See: How energy is used in the body.

Interestingly, in starvation, fatty acids stored convert to acetyl-CoA to produce energy through gluconeogenesis.

Similarly, amino acids also break down to produce acetyl-CoA to produce energy.

Hence a starving person looks lean and loses weight as the reserve substances are consumed to produce energy.

Frequently asked questions and answers.

What harvests energy from food molecules to make ATP

Mitochondria harvests the energy from food molecules to make ATP

What process releases energy from food

The TCA cycle, with prior glycolysis, releases energy from food.

In case of low oxygen levels, energy is released by Anaerobic Glycolysis

What is the release of energy from food called?

It is called oxidative phosphorylation.

Where does the energy of food originally come from

It is from glucose from food. In case of starvation, it comes from the oxidation of fats and also gluconeogenesis.

Aminoacids and other non-carbohydrate molecules are converted to glucose to produce energy by gluconeogenesis.

Which process releases energy from digested food

Processes like glycolysis, pyruvate pathway, and then TCA cycle processes release energy from food.

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  1. The energy released by this process does not in my opinion produce the energy required to operate that hydraulic pump we know as the heart. That pump has a demand of energy to drive the blood under pressure throughout the arteries and return through the veins roughly speaking and no one ever calculates the actual power in watts or horse power required and I mean the power to contract the muscles of the heart, that action of forcing a diaphragm to transfer the pressure to the flow of the output. It is alright to explain that the muscles in the heart contract, but there is far more to it than the convenient reply that the muscles contract forgetting that the muscles in the next part of a cycle forcibly expand at a frequency of 74 cycles a minute. Do not tell me that this power is obtained from a bar of chocolate. If you reduce the body temperature to 30 degrees and time how long it takes to reach normal levels in ambient temperatures that will give some indication of power needed to achieve that, bearing in mind that the correct measure would be to test from minus 30 degrees F to 98.4 degrees F. Then the energy required would be able to be calculated, bearing in mind that the flow of blood carries the heat to the skin acting as a radiator so to speak among its many other elements, and yes, the system has a thermostat to regulate the temperature to 98.4 F. It is my opinion that the heart beat is not energised by conversion of food although some energy is created but in comparison perhaps enough to power the windscreen wipers, but not the engine whether I.C. or electric motor. I was aware of some elements of the structure of cells but your article has really given me something to research and improve my understanding of the various organ's elements and structure properties. Thank you. Brian.

    • The body is the ultimate machine. Think about why we haven’t got humanoid robots yet? The sheer power alone required can’t compare to the efficiency/complexity of the human body.

  2. Very concise and informative. The food I am now eating is not what gives me energy now. When I eat now my reserves are released. And, current food will be processed and stored. I always wondered how the sugar that I currently eat gives me such a quick boast. Did not even have time to process. Thanks.


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