Quality Food: Aspects worth considering
In my first post I introduced this concept of the “quality diet”, which is not only applicable to food, but to many other areas of life.
As for food I was thinking how to define the term “quality”.
In general food quality often includes aspects like appearance (size, shape, etc.), texture, flavor and others i.e. federal standards.
Those aspects are not enough. What about taking into consideration the nutrient density, the production process or the consequences for the environment, instead of just focusing on “superficial” aspects?
Food quality, as well as quality in general, is highly subjective. Good quality for one person is bad quality for another, due to their different quality standards.
Despite all subjective influences on this topic, I think there are aspects everybody should take into account when determining the quality of food.
Think of those aspects as ideas you might take into consideration when determining the quality of your food. You don’t have to agree with them and you can add your own.
Let me know in the comments what other aspects you would include!
I already mentioned in my first post how you should use the Pareto principle to eliminate the foods that are really bad for you. The bad 20% that give you 80% of sickness.
There is no doubt that such foods exist, i.e. soda or trans-fats.Eliminating the very low quality foods is a huge step to higher food quality in general.
I don’t want to discuss whether i.e. meat is good or bad, but when comparing unprocessed meat with processed meat (including tons of chemicals, salt and other additives) it is obvious which one is the high quality food.
The solution here is to reverse engineer it. If you can’t say what is good or even what is better, think about what is bad or what is worse.
For example: Home-made lemonade, made with fresh fruits, water and maybe honey is for sure better than the lemonade you can buy, which has tons of sugar, chemical additives and flavors, although Lemonade in general would probably not be considered healthy.
Taste is a major predictor of quality, at least for natural products. Most “general” guidelines include it as well.
Taste is also very subjective, maybe the must subjective thing on the planet, but it should be included in defining quality food.
Imagine having two apples of the same kind and one does taste better than the other. Logically one (at least on a subjective basis) is better quality than the other.
It also could be that there are natural variances in the tastes of apples for sure, but in general I think this is an aspect of quality worth considering.
Unfortunately in today’s world the food industry has so many possibilities to trick us into thinking we are eating high quality food. They are using flavor enhancers, i.e. glutamate or chemical sweeteners, i.e. aspartame and other additives to increase the tastiness and appearance of low quality products.
If you pay close attention to your foods you can taste the difference between real quality and “fake quality”, but it is getting harder and harder.
Eating flavor enhancers on a regular basis will lead to some form of adaptation, after which natural products will taste bland.
But don’t worry this is reversible.Once you stop eating those, your body will also accustom to the real taste of the products.
Ideally quality food has no boxing. You know the reasons. One of them is that more packaging equals more waste production.
The waste production is just one aspect of it though. You’ve probably heard that some health authorities have the rule: “If it comes in a bag or a box, don’t eat it”.
That’s true! Natural products don’t actually need packaging, processed foods do.
Packaging is just another medium the food industry can use to provide you with health claims and other information on how great their food is.
Have you ever seen a health claim on broccoli?
Using natural, reusable or even recycled packaging like glass, wood or cotton bags is better than any form of plastic, since there is always the potential danger that some particles of the packaging, especially from plastic, i.e. BPA (bisphenol-A, a hormonal disruptor), is “transferred” into the food.
No packaging is best. Natural packaging is second best.
The effect of low quality food on the environment is intangible. If you don’t think about it you won’t notice the negative impacts.
Unfortunately there are several of them. Starting with the increased waste production, but also including things like cutting down of the rainforest for monocultures, depleting and destroying of the top soil, while using more chemical fertilizers and pesticides or even the increased pollution due to food transportation for our convenience of having all foods year-round.
I’m not saying you should stop eating food that can’t be grown in your country, but if there is regional alternative you should take it.
All those impacts are very bad for the environment and can cause much trouble in the future.
I’ve created a PDF file for you that shows you which vegetables and fruit you should definitely buy organic (they are loaded with pesticides) and which ones you could buy conventional.
You can find the PDF in the bonus section below.
It not just important what you eat, but how you eat it as well.
Do you eat your meals on-the-go, in your car, while rushing through traffic or do you take your time having a family dinner?
This has a major impact on quality. Being stressed while eating is not good for you, as the whole “Mindful eating” movement suggests.
Take your time, enjoy your food and recognize the different tastes are just a few ideas to upgrade the quality of your circumstances while eating.
Our microbiome (all the microbes in our gut) plays a more important role for our health than we thought.
This is a pretty new field, so there is still research needed, but what we do know is that more variety in your gut microbes you have the better it is better for you.
One study found out that lean individuals had a wider variety in Bacteriodetes (bacteria that can break down plant fiber and starches) than thicker individuals.
Due to this greater variety they could get more nutrients from those fibers and starches.
Eating a high variety of different high quality foods will increase the variety of bacteria in your gut.
There is also evidence that eating highly processed, sugar-loaded, low-quality foods will alter your microbiome for the worse.
I’ve compiled you a PDF list of 7 great high-quality foods for your microbes and what to look out for.You can get this list in the bonus section below.
Vitamins and nutrients
I already mentioned this in a previous article. If you have the same product and one has more nutrients and vitamins than the other, logically it is a higher quality product.
Unfortunately vitamin content in fruits and vegetables has been decreasing since over 50 years.
Since we need vitamins and minerals to function at our best those aspects should definitely be included when determining food quality.
Cooking is an amazing thing to learn. There is an idea of a diet that only includes one rule: “You can eat whatever you want, but you have to make it yourself.”
This goes hand in hand with a high quality diet. If you would prepare all your food for yourself you would be healthy.
I have no doubt that this is true. Michael Pollan mentions this in this very interesting talk.
If you would cook all your meals by yourself, the quality of your diet would skyrocket. I know most of you think this is unrealistic or even impossible, but there is always one small step you can take today.
Pollan also says that part of our global health crisis is due to the fact that “special occasion” foods became everyday foods. He exemplifies this with French fries.
Traditionally they required a lot of work and thus only being made on special occasions. Today though you can buy and eat them every day.
This is not only true for French fries, but for many desserts and other foods we overindulge these days.So go ahead and have French fries every day, but make them yourself.
I bet after a few days you will eat something else, because of all the work they require.
There is a reason why traditional foods, became traditional foods. Most of them have many health benefits and they do taste delicious.
For example I recently found a plum-jam (the company is called Tarpa, after a location in Hungary) with a hundreds of years old recipe.
The only ingredient is plums. No added sugar & no chemicals. I tried it and it tastes delicious.
Now think about bread. In Europe many countries consume bread as a basic food. I don’t say this is bad, but it depends on the production.
It is really hard to find freshly, traditionally baked bread in today’s world.
With no additives or even no added sugar.
Often bread is a simple processed “pre-product” that bakers just have to heat or bake. It includes chemical additives and other unnecessary ingredients.
In my opinion, this is not a quality food since baking bread takes time and requires some work.
Some people in the Blue Zones for example traditionally make sprouted bread, which is supposed to be even healthier, since the sprouting eliminates much of the “unhealthy” components in the grains.
You can get a traditional recipe from the Blue Zones for sprouted wheat bread in the bonus section below.
Whenever you have the chance to eat traditional foods (the real ones) go for it!
Close to nature
The closer to nature a food is, the higher the quality it is.
Nature is basically our only objective quality measurement tool. We can’t say for our self what high quality food actually is, but using nature as a guideline is one of the best things we can do.
Hunter-gatherers could only eat what nature provided for them, but in the last couple of decades we distanced ourselves from this “mindset”.
The Paleo Diet promotes this mindset, but it is often still more about what foods you eat instead of what quality of food you eat. (Hunter-gatherers probably ate a lot of meat, but all of that meat was “grass-fed” and wild game. There was no CAFO meat available back then).
GMOs, fertilizers, added chemicals and flavor enhancers are taking our foods further away from nature than most of your grandparents could have imagined.
Unfortunately we can’t say where this is taking us in the long run. Most additives are tested and regulated, but often those acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels are arbitrary and don’t take other added substances and the combined impacts on your health into account.
Of the 84.000 chemicals that are listed on the inventory of the TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act, from 1976), only 200 are safety tested.
Nature fine-tuned itself for millions of years and nobody should think that he is smarter.
Whenever you are able to eat close to nature, you should do it. It will help your health and the environment in the long run.
Quality is subjective and it includes many aspects. Nobody should point at an apple and say: “This apple tastes great, it is high quality.” It might taste great, but taste is only one of many aspects of high quality foods.
Whenever you are food shopping, keep this in mind.
Listing all those aspects of quality can be kind of intangible, so I want to exemplify those at two examples: Milk and vegetables.
I choose those two on purpose as milk is a very controversial product while few people will disagree when hearing that vegetables are healthy.
Let me know what you think!
This is not a discussion if milk or anything else is beneficial or not, but it should show you the quality aspects in real life.
Food: Milk is a natural product, but as I said I don’t want to discuss if milk is good or bad.
Taste: Fresh milk tastes way better than long-life milk. Again: taste is subjective, try it for yourself.
Boxing: Here it’s getting interesting. There are basically two packing option available today: plastic and glass. (I’ll take the Tetra Pak as plastic). This is obvious. Choose the glass bottles. Not only don’t you risk any plastic in your milk, but it is also better for the environment. Bringing back the glass is not such a great hassle.
Environment: Packaging is one thing, but now think about the source of the milk. Cows.
They should eat grass, not grain. They should be able to move, not stand in cages.
Choose grass-fed milk from cows that were able to move. This is much better for the environment, as the waste production is minimized and much better for you, since grass-fed milk has a better omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio and better for the taste. Also: much better for the cow.
If you have the possibility to buy local milk it would be even better because there would be no pollution due to transportation.
Circumstances: Don’t gulp your milk. Enjoy it. Ideally don’t mix the high-quality milk with low quality, sugar loaded cereal.
Drink it slowly. Enjoy the taste. Studies suggest you need some magnesium with your milk; otherwise the calcium in it will affect your body negatively. Eat some scrambled eggs with it, or high quality oatmeal or make yourself a banana milkshake.
Microbes: Raw milk is supposed to have more beneficial bacteria than long-life milk. Most nutritionists recommend eating yoghurt for increasing the variety in gut microbes. Pasteurized milk is “sterile” so there are neither good nor bad microbes in it.
Vitamins and nutrients: Grass-fed milk has a much better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, as mentioned above, than grain-fed milk, which implies that grass-fed milk is definitely a higher quality milk.
Cooking: When it comes to milk the word processing is more appropriate. Having raw milk processed to become long-life milk is destroying all the good bacteria in it. This isn’t beneficial.
Tradition: There are traditional milk or yoghurt products like kefir. Some people in the Blue Zones have them on a regular basis. Go for them if you can find them or make them yourself.
Close to nature: Raw milk from grass-fed cows is as close to nature as it gets. Anything beyond that takes it further away. There are studies showing that raw milk is good and others say it’s dangerous because there are many hostile bacteria in it. I personally think this is exaggerated, but since I’m neither a doctor nor a nutritionist don’t take this as a health advice. Try it for yourself.
Food: Finally an “easy” one. Vegetables are healthy and few people will disagree.
Taste: Have you ever eaten vegetables from your own or your grandparent’s garden? I have and the taste was absolutely incredible. It’s an entirely different league than conventional grown vegetables. Often, organic vegetables taste better than conventional, but as before: taste is subjective. Try it for yourself.
Packaging: Vegetables don’t need any form of packaging. Cardboard or wooden boxes are preferable to plastic.
Environment: Conventional farming is destroying the soil and thus decreasing the quality of the vegetables. Depleted soil is also responsible for the nutrient and vitamin loss in vegetables. Eating regional and seasonal vegetables is good for the environment as well, since it reduces pollution, i.e. from transportation.
Circumstances: Enjoy eating your vegetables. Try to taste the natural flavor of them. Try them without seasoning and see how they taste. At first you will think they are bland, but after some time you will notice the different flavors.
Take you time while eating, although eating vegetables as a snack, i.e. carrot or celery sticks, is a great idea, as it is one of the healthiest snacks there is.
Microbes: Vegetables are good foods for your microbes since they are often rich in fiber, which is good for your microbes.
Vitamins and nutrients: Organic vegetables are having more nutrients and vitamins than conventional grown. But I’m thinking about real organic, not just the label. In some countries the label has really low standards, so maybe check for stricter organic labels in your country.
Cooking: Steaming is supposed to be the best cooking method for vegetables since the vitamins and nutrients are not “flushed” out into the water. If you want to cook your vegetables prepare them as a soup, since you will also “eat” the water with all the vitamins in it. Don’t cook all of your vegetables but have some of them raw, i.e. in salads.
Tradition: We’ve been eating vegetables since the first humans walked on this planet. Most of them were wild plants and different from what we know today. If there is a way to prepare vegetables the traditional way, i.e. using fermentation as in sauerkraut or kimchi, you should use that, because it additionally helps your gut microbes.
Close to nature: Vegetables are naturally close to nature unless we are changing them. Try not to eat genetically modified vegetables. The same is true for vegetables with high amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. The list of the dirty dozens (vegetables and fruits that are loaded with pesticides) is a good starting point, it’s included in the bonus below.