By Jane Barthelemy.
Counting is an accepted way to measure nutrition. But how effective is it? We can count what goes IN, but how much of that is absorbed by your body as nourishment? Calories and nutrition labels are estimates at best. It’s more relevant to ask if there’s any life force in your food. Your body is constantly swapping molecules, creating new nutrients, and your intestinal bacteria is a nutrient factory. So why count calories and nutrients going IN, if it’s only a fraction of the picture?
Executive summary: See details below.
1. Scientific research tells us that the nutrients we actually absorb are only 10% to 80% of what we consume. Your personal absorption rate depends on many factors such as how you chew your food, your diet, age, metabolism, intestinal flora, and more.
2. Calorie counts are unreliable. According to the FDA, over 10% of nutrition labels contain errors. Calories were invented 200 years ago to measure heat in a steam engine, which cannot accurately describe the complexities of human metabolism. Nutrition tables for common foods are based on decades-old studies and gross estimates that cannot take all variables into account. These inaccuracies make nutrition labels and calories highly questionable.
3. Your body is a biochemical factory, constantly swapping molecules to create nutrients you need. We can count the nutrients going IN. But this will not tell us what nutrients are being transformed, stored, or synthesized by the body. Therefore counting nutrients consumed is going to be inaccurate.
4. How much life force is in your food today? Although it’s more difficult to count, it would be far more relevant to measure the life force, or Qi in your food. In general, original living foods have life force. Processed and stored foods do not. That means fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, seeds, and nuts are rich with life force. Processed foods such as chips, crackers, energy bars, and bread are generally low in life force.
5. My suggestion is to forget counting and maximize nutrient absorption. Rather than measuring only what goes IN, it is far more beneficial to focus on improving nutrient assimilation. How do we do that? The best ways to maximize nutrient absorption are: Chew your food really well. Eat quality food produced and prepared with love. Eat small to moderate quantities. For highest bio-availability, eat mostly lightly cooked warm food, and some raw young plants, all unprocessed. Eat a balanced diet. Exercise, and follow a healthy lifestyle appropriate for your body. Avoid toxins and emotional stress. It’s better to spend more money on quality food and eat less, than to eat larger quantities of poor quality food. Just imagine all the money, time, and energy we can save! For more details, read on.
How Much of Your Food is Really Absorbed?
Research says your body actually assimilates between 10% and 80% of the food you eat, the average somewhere in between. The rest is excreted, recycled back into the Earth. How much you assimilate depends on many factors, which fluctuate constantly and are not easy to measure. The primary factors are: how well you chew your food, the nutrient-density of the food, the type of food (i.e. meats, vegetables, seeds), whether it is raw or cooked, the level of life force in the food, enzymes present, your intestinal flora, your emotional health, stress level, and any toxins or useless material that must be eliminated. Other important factors are your metabolism, exercise and activity level, the quantity of food consumed, your age, the time of day, your internal body temperature, and the temperature of the food consumed.
Animal Studies of Food Absorption
Scientific studies in animals show that grazers assimilate 20-40% of the energy from grass, and the rest is excreted. (Have you seen a cow pie recently? It’s full of undigested grass.) Animals who live on a diet of young leaves and plants absorb more – 60 to 70% of the energy taken in. Seed-eaters absorb up to 80% of their food. Carnivores assimilate the highest percentage – 80 to 90% of their food eaten. What about humans? Humans eat plants, and some eat meat. Energy assimilation of meats is generally higher than that of plants. Studies show that light cooking of plants increases its bio-availability, so that more of the nutrients can be absorbed. Your personal absorption rate depends on what you eat and the factors above.
Your digestion is an amazing sorting mechanism.
With intelligence and precision your body knows what to absorb, what to block, and what to throw away. For example, processed food contains a high percentage of useless material. Your body is so smart that if toxins or garbage enter the digestion, it builds a natural barrier in the intestinal lining called mucoid plaque. This serves as a filter to keep them from entering the bloodstream. Unfortunately it also blocks your ability to absorb real nutrients. This is one reason some people are able to reach middle age eating a diet of junk food – their digestive system blocks and excretes the garbage. The body is highly efficient, so that when food is scarce, it works to absorb more of it. Likewise when food is abundant, it eliminates a higher percentage of it. Therefore measuring food INTAKE doesn’t tell you much about what’s getting assimilated. This is definitely food for thought…
What’s a Calorie Anyway?
The concept of a calorie was introduced in 1819 by French chemist Nicholas Clément, who analyzed the energy input and output of steam engines. He coined the French word “calorie” (from Latin “calor”, meaning “heat”) as “the amount of energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Kelvin.” A half century later in 1887, American Wilbur O. Atwater first applied the term calorie to food. Surprisingly, the primary motivation in their calorie calculation was to determine the cheapest way to perform heavy work, using manual human labor or steam engines!
Your Body is Not a Steam Engine
Your body is a dynamic, intelligent, adaptive, living organism. It can’t be measured like a steam engine. Your body is wise. It can “gear up” and “gear down” its metabolism, or energy consumption depending on myriad factors such as stress, hormones, metabolic demands, and perceived food availability. Digestion is a complex process with countless moving parts, including the trillions of helpful intestinal bacteria that “digest” the food for you. How efficiently you assimilate food can affect the energy you receive from it by a huge amount. Energy consumption also varies by time of day, with higher burning in the morning. Metabolism speed varies widely from person to person. The energy consumed walking up a flight of stairs may be quite different for a trained athlete, a child, and an older person. This makes me wonder: Are calories an effective measure of body energy? Can a steam engine’s heat input and output be applied to human metabolism with any accuracy at all?
Nutrition labels are confusing and stressful for many people.
Are Nutritional Labels Reliable?
The FDA does not verify nutrition labels, and there are countless errors.
The FDA itself estimates that roughly 10% of food labels contain inaccuracies. If an error is suspected, a label must be off by 20% before risking a penalty. Standard boiler-plate tables for foods are often used to calculate nutrition facts, and this invites further error. That’s because other hard-to-measure factors have a significant effect on the nutritional content of a given food, such as how it is grown, the quality of the soil, its water content, ripeness when harvested, how long ago it was harvested, the particular species, how it is prepared, and how much it is heated. All these factors make the labels estimates at best.
Forget the Nutrition Labels?
My personal approach is to buy nutrient dense, original, unprocessed foods, and relax, knowing that my calorie and nutrient needs are covered. For the few packaged foods that I buy, I speed-read the ingredient list for red flags such as GMO’s, sugars, and toxins. It’s fast. To learn how, see my article 3 Easy Steps to Speed-Read Nutrition Labels. I don’t look at calories or nutrition facts. I don’t waste my energy worrying about label inaccuracies. Everyone knows there’s more real nutrition, life force, and flavor, in original unprocessed foods.
How Much Life Force is in Your Food Today?
Although it’s more difficult to count, it would be far more relevant to measure the life force, or Qi in your food. Is your food energetically alive, or is it empty? Light cooking does not destroy the energy in foods; in most cases it makes food more bio-available. How can you recognize life force? In general, original living foods have life force. Processed and stored foods do not. That means fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, seeds, and nuts are rich with life force. Processed foods that do not go bad such as chips, crackers, energy bars, and bread are generally low in life force. When we eat processed foods the body is full and feels temporarily satiated, however they do not offer benefit, and are excreted. Digesting food requires enormous energy. Eating empty food requires the body to sort through unwanted garbage, and this depletes our digestive strength.
Your Body Swaps Nutrients to Create New Ones
Your body is an nutrient factory. The transformation of nutrient materials within it defies measurement. Metabolism is a continual process of chemical exchange within living cells. Some nutrients are consumed, while other nutrients can synthesized by the cells. We know the cell’s metabolic machinery can transform some nutrients into other forms by rearranging their atomic components and chemical bonding. A familiar example occurs after you eat an excessive amount of carbohydrate in the form of sugars – your body cells can transform these sugars into fat. Likewise excess proteins are also converted into fat. In another example, the body usually builds cells with amino acids, the building blocks of protein. However it can also swap molecules to convert those amino acids to glucose and then burn the glucose for energy.
Your intestines are a biochemical melting pot of nutrients. For example, your intestinal bacteria synthesize Vitamin K, Vitamin B12, and fatty acids, which give you energy and build strong cell walls. Vitamin D is synthesized by the skin cells using sunlight. Many amino acids can be manufactured by the body (alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, l-cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, histidine, ornithine, proline, selenocysteine, serine, taurine, and tyrosine). These are just a few examples of the transformation and creation of nutrients going on in your body.
We can count the nutrients going IN. But this will not tell us what nutrients are being swapped, changed, and synthesized inside the body.
Forget Counting. Instead Boost Assimilation.
Instead of counting calories and carbs, it is more important to boost assimilation and build strong metabolism by eating more of the right kinds of nutrient-dense foods, and exercising intelligently. The quality of your food REALLY matters. So when you eat good food, your total body health improves all by itself.
Best ways to maximize your nutrient absorption:
- Chew your food very well. This is #1. Studies show that life expectancy and digestive health are directly linked to how many times you chew your food! Food must be reduced to a single molecule to be absorbed. Chewing it well mixes your food with digestive enzymes and vastly improves assimilation.
- Eat quality food, produced and prepared with love, in small to moderate quantities.
- Eat mostly lightly cooked warm food, and some raw food from young plants.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Exercise, move a lot, and live a healthy lifestyle for your body.
- Avoid toxins and emotional stress.
- It’s better to spend more money on quality food and eat less, rather than eating larger quantities of poor quality food.
Thanks for reading. Please share your comments below.
“A fool eats perfect food, and transforms it into crap. A wise person eats what is offered, and transforms it into harmony and wisdom.” – Jane Barthelemy
Social Adaptation to Food Stress: A Prehistoric Southwestern Example, by Paul E. Minnis
Enzyme Nutrition by Edward Powell
Advanced Human Nutrition, By Denis M Medeiros
Intestinal Failure: Diagnosis, Management and Transplantation, edited by Alan N. Langnas