The energy required by animals to sustain life is derived from oxidation of ingested food. We often speak of food being burned in the body. This is an appropriate expression because experiments show that when food is burned with oxygen, approximately the same energy is released as when the food is oxidized in the body. Such an experimental device is the well-insulated, constant-volume calorimeter shown in Fig. below.
A carefully weighed food sample is placed in the chamber of the calorimeter together with oxygen (O2). The entire chamber is submerged in the calorimeter’s water bath. The chamber contents are then electrically ignited, fully oxidizing the food sample. The energy released during the reaction within the chamber results in an increase in calorimeter temperature. Using the measured temperature rise, the energy released can be calculated from an energy balance for the calorimeter as the system. This is reported as the calorie value of the food sample, usually in terms of kilo-calorie (kcal), which is the “Calorie” seen on food labels.