Does Paper Have Calories? (Not what you think!)


Paper has been with us for centuries, at least as early as 105 CE. According to scholars, paper is made of organic compounds found in plants that people have a hard time digesting.

However, have you ever wondered does the paper have any calories, or are there any health benefits from eating it?

Today I will explain if the paper has calories, and if so, what is its nutritional value?

According to online calorie trackers, 100 sheets of paper contains 2 calories. However, this information is not accurate because the paper is produced from cellulose fibers (the form of long-chain polymeric carbohydrates), which is indigestible and has no nutrients nor any nutritional value.

For the disclaimer, please do not eat any form of paper (I will explain why later).

Does the paper have calories?

Before I explain if the paper has calories let’s first understand the meaning of what calories are and what not.

You can think of calories as the amount of energy it would take to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

Calories can be found in macronutrients like carbs, fats, proteins, fiber, and alcohol., and are released from them during digestion.

Digestion breaks down the food into smaller molecules (amino acids, fatty acids, glucose) which the body can use for energy.

This means that the only way for the paper to have any calories it had to contain some amount of macronutrients.

How many calories does the paper have?

Traditionally, paper was made from fiber and a variety of materials such as cotton, sugar cane waste, flax, bamboo, wood, linen rags, and wheat straw.

Some of these raw materials (e.g. wheat straw or wood) do contain a little bit of micro and macronutrients.

For example, according to the internet, one kilogram of wheat straw contains around 4,410 calories. It also has 4.4 grams of calcium, 1.1 grams of magnesium, and 167 mg of iron per kilogram.

Does it mean we can treat paper that’s been derived from wood or wheat straw just like mashed potato and beans?

Not really.

Paper is mainly made of cellulose, a complex carbohydrate that is made up of the same simple sugars as starch.

According to Carbohydrate Polymers Journal, “during the papermaking process, the paper pulp is washed with sodium hydroxide.”

“Sodium hydroxide is highly¬†corrosive and can cause severe burns and permanent damage to any tissue that it comes in contact with,” states the article.

“Sodium hydroxide breaks the lignin bonds of wood and wheat straw, as well as decomposes and dissolves any proteins, fats, and oils.”

In other words, it turns wood or wheat straw into a liquid, without any nutritional value.

Later, the sodium hydroxide solution is drained and isolated from the paper pulp, before the pressing process.

Does Paper Contain Any Form of Energy?

In general, paper does not have any calories because it is made of indigestible fibers.

Cellulose is a type of insoluble fiber, which means the body cannot digest it. When you eat a piece of paper, the pulp moves through your digestive tract unchanged.

However, according to the internet, the paper has calories:

  • MyFitnessPal says that 100 sheets of paper contain 1 gram of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fats, and 2 calories in total.
  • Alexa Answers says that one piece of paper contains about 0.0002 calories.

Does Tissue Paper Have Calories?

According to a popular online calorie calculator, toilet paper has 15 calories per 32 rolls. It also has 100 grams of proteins and 65 grams of carbohydrates. On the other hand, one roll of toilet paper has 3 grams of proteins, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and a total of zero calories.

Take a look at the picture below.

Calories in toilet paper

It’s hilarious, I know.

The problem is that tissue paper that is used for napkins, toilet paper, paper towels, or facial tissues does not have any calories or nutritional value. Tissue paper is made of soft and absorbent paper derived from wood or recycled paper.

None of these materials contain any macro or micronutrients.

However, according to some online calorie calculators, this is not the case.

Do paper towels have calories? Overall, paper towels do not have calories or any nutritional value. Paper towels are made of cellulose, which has no calories, vitamins, or minerals. It also has no protein, carbohydrates, or fat. Cellulose is insoluble, which means the body can’t digest it.

Is It Bad For You To Eat Paper?

Overall, it is not bad nor good to eat paper. According to Massachusetts General Hospital gastroenterologist Dr. Kyle Staller, eating paper is not dangerous, however, it also does not have any nutritional value.

Paper is mostly made of cellulose. When it comes to digestion, cellulose is harmless for the body because humans do not have the digestive enzymes necessary to break it down.

Anything we eat has to be broken down in order for nutrients to be extracted and absorbed. However, the cellulose fiber passes through the digestive system without any change.

In other words, eating paper will create a pulp that will have the same form as it came in.

A few years back I read the story from the Washington Post guy who said he would eat the newspaper if Trump won.

Is It Normal To Eat Paper?

This may sound strange to you but eating paper is not uncommon.

In fact, there is a medical condition called Xylophagia, which is a form of Pica.

Xylophagia is an eating disorder characterized by eating or craving of things that are not food (e.g. paper, pencils, tree bark) or other items made of wood. This condition has been described in health and medical journals for centuries.

Dr. Daniel Kurtz from the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit said that “pica has been linked to iron deficiency, zinc deficiency, and certain co-morbid conditions like Kleine-Levin syndrome, mental retardation, and schizophrenia” (Kurtz et al. 2020).

Conclusion

According to some online calorie trackers, paper, towel papers, and tissue paper do have calories, but this information is, well, inaccurate.

In general, the paper does not have any calories. It also does not have any nutritional value like sugar, protein, or carbs. Paper is made of organic compounds found in plants and humans lack the enzymes necessary to properly digest them.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc) and a veteran endurance athlete. He loves to experiment and share his successes and failures to help busy men and women who want to lose weight.

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