The True Measure of Food Quality

At Pasture to Fork, we have plenty to say about Corporate Food’s sleazy labeling tricks, which makes the pseudo food produced in their laboratories and food factories out to be not only desirable, but quite healthy as well. And I must say, even for a real-food-passionate person like myself, a walk down grocery store aisles—especially at mealtime—instigates a level of desire for even the most processed items on the shelf (I too, grew up consuming these food-like substances and developed a palate memory for their allure).

The greatest advantage Big Food enjoys—which allows their hiding behind glitzy labels and wordy claims—is the disconnect between the farm and the eater. While this is convenient and desirable to many consumers as well as farmers, more and more people are waking up to the fact that their food may be vastly compromised, and that increasingly we’re a weakened species for consuming it. Convenience is addictive, however, and determining to source food locally and directly requires dedicated effort, although I would suggest it also brings considerable satisfaction and empowerment.

Direct-to-consumer farms like us, on the other hand, have little use for fancy four-color labels. Perhaps the number one reason being that the consumer—in most cases—either visits the farm in person or browses our website, and by doing so have the opportunity to catch on to our vision and philosophy. Food produced and marketed in this manner doesn’t need much of a label, only true in-person representation and good packaging in order to preserve freshness and quality.

Given the attitude of acceptance among many Americans, I continue to be amazed at how few years have elapsed since the advent of government control in the food sector. Most mandatory food laws in this country are quite young, and have by no means proven themselves to create value or to benefit society. For example, the Nutrition Fact label we now take for granted was not required until 1994. How did people possibly know how or what to eat prior to ’94? I’m sure people did know, and maybe, just maybe, were more in tune with their food for the lack of labeling and government direction.

Frankly though, nutrition labeling—especially the Nutrition Facts graph—has even less value than most of us know. For example, the measure of calories has almost no relation to real nutrition, and may be a mere distraction. Yet calories are listed first on the Nutrition Facts label, in bold. If tracking calories is of such utmost importance—or of significant value—why are 2/3rds of Americans now overweight or obese? Clearly, this exemplifies how calories do not equal nutritional quality, given the fact that we’re more overfed and undernourished than ever. But, in 2018 a new law was enacted by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requiring any restaurant with more than 20 locations to provide customers with a calorie-count on their food items. Is this anything more than a perpetuation of nutrition distraction? As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

As you may know, I’m not a fan of government intervention in societal behavior. But what really bothers me about the government-mandated caloric rule is the fact that it assumes “a calorie is a calorie” regardless of its origin. If you ate 500 calories of soda and 500 calories of broccoli, would your body respond similarly? Of course not! They may be calorically the same, but are a world apart nutritionally. Don’t think your body doesn’t know the difference.

So, how is a calorie determined? Number one, it’s a unit of energy—the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a gram of water one degree Centigrade, to be exact. Or, the modern version is simply 4.1868 joules of energy. That’s all, energy. Obviously, a calorie of gasoline energy will not serve my body like a calorie of pork chop will. Perhaps the foremost reason is because a calorie of pork chop also provides a lot of other value besides x amount of energy. Which brings home the point of the discussion; calories are such a tiny portion of the measure of food item that it’s practically unimportant.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of all this is that it’s the best we can do in modern America. Is this really the brightest and best in food science? I hope not. To be honest, I know it’s not, the private sector knows far more about food and nutrition than anything coming from the ivory towers of government.

Goodness, we’re still using a nearly 150-year-old method to determine caloric content. Besides, are we as humans not more than test tubes? Do we not break down food in a far more complex manner than a bomb calorimeter, which is how calories per gram of food are determined? We digest food efficiently or inefficiently depending on stress, nutrient deficiency, digestive enzymes, composition of gut flora, timing of previous meal, and on and on. One day you may be able to digest 300 calories from a meal but only harness 200 calories from the same meal the next day based on your environment and individual state of being.

There are so many different diets on the market because no one really knows what you should eat. There’s probably as many opinions and disagreements as there are dieticians and nutritionists. However, one thing almost universally agreed upon in the diet world is whole foods. Eating whole foods come with a lot of advantages, and literally no disadvantages.

When you switch from a processed food diet to whole foods, you don’t have to worry about counting calories because your body self-regulates. It works the way it’s designed to work. You stop over-eating because you are no longer blocking the hormonal signal that tells your body you are full. When I say whole foods, I’m not necessarily saying raw food—although that can be included. I saying food that has nothing in the ingredient list except that food—or very few other ingredients.

Do yourself a favor and simply stop counting calories. Stop listening to governmental guidance as to what foods you should or shouldn’t eat. Don’t choose your food based on an inaccurate label that perpetuates the myth that all calories are the created equal. It’s simply not true. Let the stress of calorie counting go from your mind and body. Instead, enjoy whole foods—the food God intended for you to eat. Your body recognizes whole foods, and knows how to digest and metabolize them. And that’s The View from the Country.