Calories today just aren’t what they used to be…

Humans generally eat “food” from 3 categories: plants (fruits and vegetables), animal (beef, chicken, eggs, etc.) and synthetic man made (aspartame, saccharin, olestra, butylated hydroxyanisole, and all those other ingredients on the list that you can’t pronounce!)

Today I’d like to talk about the calories we get from vegetables and how they are no longer what they used to be. In my last article I mentioned that calories serve 2 purposes: 1) they provide energy and 2) they provide the vehicle to deliver nutrition.

The Canadian and USA food guides are pretty similar and recommend that the average person consume 4 vegetable and 3 fruit servings in a day. For vegetables, a “serving” is comprised of 1 cup of raw leafy greens or ½ cup of cooked or chopped raw vegetables or ¾ cup of vegetable juice. For fruit one serving is considered 1 piece of fruit (apple, orange, banana, pear, etc.) or ½ cup of raw or canned fruit or ¾ cup of fruit juice.

These aren’t random recommendations. They were made because these foods are meant to provide the bulk of your vitamin, mineral and fiber uptake.

But here’s the problem with those serving recommendations: They are assuming that the nutrient count in those fruits and vegetables are where they should be. They measure fruit the same way car companies measure the gas mileage for their vehicles. My Honda Civic was rated for 51mpg on the highway. And sure it got decent gas mileage but certainly nowhere near that. It’s the same for fruit and vegetables.

These food guides assume that a naturally ripened apple has: 0.26g of protein, 7.86mg of fiber, 0.19mg of vitamin B2, 73.14IU of Vitamin A, 9.66mg of calcium, 0.05mg of copper, 0.24 mg of iron, 0.41mcg of selenium, etc. Do you honestly think every apple you eat has exactly the same make up of vitamins and nutrients? Do you think any even meet all of these figures?

Did you notice that I stated “naturally ripened” in the paragraph above? Most of the nutrition a plant possesses is obtained through ripening “on the vine”. We live in eastern Canada. There is snow on the ground 4 months of the year. Our growing season is 3-4 months long. So most of our food comes from Florida, California, Mexico, Central America and even now even China! If these fruits and vegetables were picked after they had ripened on the vine, what do you think the odds are they would arrive in my grocery store 5000 or more miles away still fresh and blemish free???

Let me explain something else… Back in “early times” why did farmers farm?

They farmed for food! That seems like the obvious answer right?

But nowadays, why do farmers farm?

They farm for MONEY!

So how does that difference affect farming practices?
In the early days of farming, farmers didn’t have access to all the chemicals we have today and they knew if they wanted healthy food then they needed healthy fields. So they would rotate crops, till under vegetation, not plant/grow for a season, and they would allow their fields to stay healthy and vital. By growing different crops, different stresses are placed on the soil and a diverse harvest is available to the family. By following these practices they ensured good crops and healthy food for their families.

But nowadays farmers aren’t feeding their family with their crops, they are selling their crops to earn money for their family. So now, the more crops they can sell, the more money they make. There is no need to diversify their crops. If they grow corn, then corn is all they plant. If they grow soy, then soy is all they plant. This practice leads to 2 major problems.

The first problem is that if there are not crops in the fields, then no money is coming in. So crops aren’t rotated and the fields are never given a rest. With no recovery period, over time all the minerals are extracted from the soil. Luckily for farmers, all a plant needs to grow is water, sunlight, nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Why do you think fertilizers are made up of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium? Given those 5 ingredients, a plant can produce a large, healthy “looking” fruit. But of course, if there is no copper, iron, selenium, etc. in the soil there is no way for it to be in the fruit either.

A second problem is that to ensure “healthy” fruits and vegetables, they have to be protected from molds, fungus and insects. Herbicides and pesticides do a great job with that, but while they are killing the invaders of the plants, they are also killing the microorganisms in the soil. These microorganisms are crucial for converting inorganic (rock) nutrients into organic elements that can be taken up by the plants. So even if the soil possessed copper, iron, etc. it wouldn’t be available to the plant without the aid of the microorganisms.

So what does all this mean for our fruits and vegetables?
One study compared the nutrient content of vegetables in 1963 and again in 2000. This study found a 45% decrease in Vitamin C in spinach, a 30% decrease in Vitamin A in corn, and a 51% decrease in Potassium and 84% decrease in Magnesium in collards. You can read the findings from this entire study here:

These numbers hold true for both organic and non-organic food sources. “Organic” means that no synthetic pesticides or herbicides were used in the growing process. It certainly doesn’t mean that over-farming the soil wasn’t practiced.
So, when the Food Guide says we should eat 1 serving of fruit, let’s say we choose an apple. The Food Guide is assuming we’ll be consuming 340 calories and 128mg of Vitamin C. But the reality, as of the year 2000, is that an apple only contains 89mg of Vitamin C. Similarly Vitamin A in apples has dropped from 90mg to 53mg.

Honestly, our bodies today don’t really need to consume all that many calories. Let’s assume you weigh 160 pounds and have a lean body fat percentage of 16%. This means that you are carrying about 25 pounds of fat. A pound of fat has 3500 calories in it, so you have over 87,000 calories of stored energy at your disposal!

What your body needs is nutrition! The problem is, before farming became big business, we could eat a 340 calorie apple and get 128mg of Vitamin C and 90mg of Vitamin A. But now we need to eat 578 calories of apple to get the same nutritional content.

Have you ever thought about why you feel hungry even after you have just eaten? It’s not because your body is craving energy in the form of calories, your body is actually craving nutrition.

And THIS is why diets that encourage decreasing your calories to lose weight are not only ineffective but dangerous. Your body NEEDS Vitamin C and Vitamin A and iron and potassium and copper and selenium…. You bodily functions need these vitamins and minerals to function properly and efficiently. Without them you are setting yourself for injury, illness and possibly even weight gain!

How can you GAIN weight by decreasing calories? If you decrease your calories, you’ll likely decrease your nutrition. When your body is lacking essential nutrients it experiences physical stress. This stress activates your immune system and a hyperactive immune system causes the release of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol serves to store fat, burn lean muscle and extract nutrients from your bones.
I’ll be writing more about how your hormones, including cortisol, affect your weight in an upcoming article. But in the meantime I hope you are beginning to understand that weight loss, weight gain and your level of health are controlled by a multitude of systems. The number of calories you consume is only one small part of that equation.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Caldwell is a retired firefighter and advanced care flight paramedic with a Bachelor's Degree in Biology and a Master's Degree in Management. Mike is the author of V.E.A.R. Toward Success, a motivational/inspirational book that using real life examples explains how to apply your Vision, Energy, Attitude and Resolve to achieve any of your goals. In 2012, Mike decided to get serious about his Ironman triathlon racing, but given his resistance to long hours of physical training, Mike turned to nutrition to facilitate his race improvement. Within 2 months both Mike and his wife Monique lost over 30 pounds of fat each. Mike has gone on to improve all his race time personal bests by an average of 20%!