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Ways To Know If Your Food IS What It Claims To Be.

Updated: Mar 26

Not all food is created equal. Not all food is what it claims to be. Here are a few ways you can tell the difference.

Most people can't tell the difference between deeply nutritious food and food that's devoid of nutrition. Sure we all know junk food isn't good and vegetables are, but can you tell the difference between a nutritious carrot and one that is little more than sugar and fiber? 

The truth is that food can vary widely in its nutrition and eating more vegetables isn't always doing as much as you might think. 

Thankfully there are a handful of ways to determine if your food is truly nutritious or just masquerading as nutrition. 

But first, lets discuss how NOT to discern the nutritional value of your food. Most people who want to know how nutritious their food is will look at the nutrition label on the packaging. This is a really nice feature and I am more or less glad it exists. For a lot of people, this is an incredibly helpful tool as they begin their journey towards eating better.

The problem is just how the data in those tables is calculated. It turns out the information used to calculate the nutrition of, say, 8 oz. of Spinach comes from a very old data set put together by the USDA way back in the early days of nutrition science. Essentially they took a few samples of a particular raw food that was easily accessible to the testers and did exactly what you would expect. They tested and measured it in their lab. That became the standard and it was assumed that all the other spinach samples would match that. Its not particularly bad science except that the sample sizes were limited. And the assumption was that all other samples would agree.

Fast forward several decades and we now know very clearly that the data set was unacceptably small and the variance in nutrition between samples can be massive. A universal chart used by almost all food companies to determine the nutrition of their food is not actually representative of THAT food at all. Its based on a few samples taken long ago.

Furthermore we know that generally speaking, industrial food quality and nutrition has been in serious decline for the last several decades. There are lots of reasons for this. I won't get into the scientific details. But if food quality has declined over the decades and yet our nutritional assessments are based on decades old samples, then we really are not eating what those nutritional charts are claiming.

You might be asking at this point why these food companies don't just test the nutrition of their own food instead of assuming the nutrition in their ingredients matches the decades old chart that is based on a few random samples from yesteryear. The answer is they don't care. And it is somewhat expensive to keep testing all the time. And if they are sourcing their ingredients from different suppliers all the time then they would have to retest all the time anyways. So there is no way. They must use an average. And the average they follow is the decades old average standard codified by the USDA decades ago.

So the information on your nutrition chart is only vaguely accurate. And since most industrial food has declined in the last decades, it is likely reading better then the actually food in the package.

So perhaps you're disgusted by this inaccurate information. What can you do?

Well one solution would be to test your food yourself. You could gather a sample from each ingredient you use and send it in to a lab to see exactly what it reads. You could do that for each ingredient of every food you eat and then use that data multiplied by the amount in the dish combined with the other ingredients in their precise amounts and then know the TRUE nutrition of your food. Spoiler alert: that would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. But at least it would be accurate.

A much simpler way to evaluate it would be to act like a serious chef and nibble every piece of food that comes your way. Taste test it. In many cases nutrition is closely linked to flavor, so foods with deep and complex flavors are very likely more nutritious. The link between deep flavor and nutrition is beautiful and complicated. We can look at that in more detail later on. But is it really surprising that what is good for your health is also delightful? It will also likely be more beautiful since color (as well as aroma) are expressions of deep health and nutrition.

So trusting your taste buds is another way to dicern nutrition. The downside is that it is not particularly specific in its report. The up side is that it is incredibly simple and immediate. Your testing device resides in your head and the report is communicated to your frontal cortex as fast as you chew. No need to pay lab fees or wait for results to be mailed back.

The other challenge with the taste test is that most people have never taken the time to refine their palates and develop discernment. They have poor judgment. It takes time to get good at that.

Thankfully there are a few more ways to determine whether or not your food is highly nutritious. These ways thread the needle between reliable and easily observable indicators and precise reports.

They all hinge on knowing the SOURCE of your food. Without getting into the science of nutrition and plant health let me just tell you that the nutritional quality of your food is directly related to it's health (when it is alive--before harvest). Very healthy vegetables for example are packed with nutrition. If you want the precise science of this, please ask me to share my reading list. We can go into as much detail as you want!

What this means though is that if you find a source that is producing extremely consistent and healthy crops, you have found a source of consistently superior nutrition.

The next question then is how do you know if the crops are healthier. Of course you can always just look. Usually you will be able to tell if a crop or animal is healthy or sick. IT is often visible. But once a crop achieves modest health, are there ways to tell if it is really vibrant?

Turns out there is.

A first indicator is pest resistance. Truly healthy plants have an excess of energy above their needs for survival and growth and are able to devote resources to building immune functions and defenses of various kinds. Incredibly unhealthy plants will be devoured by bugs. Incredibly healthy plants will be undigestible to bugs. That's right, not just protected or resistant, the bugs literally CAN'T eat them. Or more specifically their simple digestive tracts can't break down and digest the dense and complex crop. They just move elsewhere to plants they can eat.

So very healthy (and therefore very nutritious) crops will not have any bug damage.

There is a common idea among people who embrace chemical free food that a little bug damage is just evidence that there are no pesticides and the bugs know where the good stuff is so a little bug damage is a good sign. I'm here to tell you that is not accurate. It does indicate that there are not extensive pesticides in use, but it does not indicate health or nutrition.

Furthermore, it must be clarified that ZERO bug damage indicates a VERY high level of health and vitality in a crop. A little bug damage from certain types of bugs might still be present in modestly nutritious/healthy crops.

And also keep in mind that there are plenty of "organic" pesticides that can keep bugs away. If those are in use, a crop could be unhealthy and yet have no bug damage. A truly superior crop will have no bug damage AND have zero protective aids (like pesticides or bug nets). Once again, you will need to know your farmer and you farm and know how they are achieving their bug free results.

Another indicator of high health and therefore nutrition in a crop is the sugar content of the sap. A very healthy plant will have very dense sap (too dense to be digested by bugs) that is full of sugars and complexes. We can easily measure this with a refractometer which is a very simple tool. To be clear, this tool does not measure nutrition, but rather the density of the sap which is typically a very reliable indicator of plant health.

The main thing to know though, is that plant health ultimately comes from the soil it is grown in. Well mineralized and biologically active soil is going to provide the plant with everything it needs to be very very healthy.

The key then, is to find a SOURCE of food that is coming out of very healthy soil. You can test the results once through any method that suits you (lab test, flavor test, bix reading, bug pressure observations etc.) and then, as long as the food continues to be produced in the same soil with the same management techniques you can rest confidently that the food you are getting is about the same.

You don't need to continuously test if your source stays the same. You can put all your questions about quality and nutrition to rest after one thorough test. No more vague claims about "better" food and "healthier". You can be sure.

Once you know your farmer and farm you can just enjoy your food. You can enjoy the superior color and texture and flavors, and you can also enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your food is actually nourishing you in a significant way.

And of course, I am happy to write all this because our food is just that--way more nutritious. And we can prove it.

To better food,


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