Nutritional Dark Matter Is Real & That’s Why We Have No Idea What Is In The Food We Eat.

Our knowledge and understanding of food is similar to our knowledge of genetics before scientists sequenced the human genome. We know we know very little. but probably don’t know how much we don’t know. Dark matter is the 85% of material in the universe that theoretical physicists say is there but we can’t see. The same concept can be applied to our food. This is known as Nutritional Dark Matter.

“Our understanding of how diet affects health is limited to 150 key nutritional components, but these represent only a small fraction of the biochemicals present in our food” – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.

food and nutritional dark matter

A team of researchers decided to compile a more comprehensive food database called FooDB. That database now holds information on about 70,000 nutritional compounds. If you used the existing USDA database you would miss 99.5% of the components in your food. FooDB is 400 times bigger than the USDA database.

Food in general is incredibly complicated. By focusing on the tree that is macronutrients and calories, we’ve ignored the forest. As a result, the whole nutritional field has been dumbed down. Having more information on what compounds are in food would give us greater clarity and understanding. When it comes to different foods and ways of eating, that could lead to much more consistent advice and direction.

Grabbing the 3rd Rail

Nutrition is the 3rd rail of fitness and we’re in uncharted territory. It is why red wine is bad for you one week, and great for you the next. Why fats are bad, then good (but only certain ones). Carbs a bad but if you’re in Italy make sure you eat plenty of them. Ditto red meat, eggs etc etc. You really cant be sure if you are comparing apples with apples without a complete picture of nutritional composition

Beta- Carotene is a compound associated with lowering the effects/symptoms of heart disease. However studies into beta-carotene specifically do not show any health benefits. One potential reason for this is that in plants, beta-carotene never comes alone. It always appears with 400 other molecules. Meaning, scientists may be detecting the health implications of some other molecule. Kinda like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Together they were unbeatable and everyone marvels at the greatness of MJ. However, MJ was never able to produce the same results without Pip. So maybe what we’re really witnessing is the greatness of Scottie Pippen and not Michael Jordan. But I digress..

food, beta carotene, nutritional dark matter michael-jordan-scottie-pippen_FluGame

A difficult problem to solve

The bacteria in your gut chemically transforms most of the dark nutrients in it. Thats probably why studies on the benefits of different foods sometimes give wildly different results. We don’t (can’t) properly control for the variation in gut bacteria or our innate metabolism which means different people get different doses of metabolites from their food.

All of the above is a difficult problem to solve, made even more difficult by the fact that cooking transforms chemical components into other ones that have health complications of their own. When sugars and amino acids (carbs and proteins) react at high temperatures, the result is new molecules that make roasted and grilled food taste delicious. This also produces Acrylamide. That compound more than likely causes cancer…which is bad. As we’ve already learned, we don’t know 99.5% of the compounds in our food. I should also tell you that for 85% of the compounds we have no idea how much of them is in our foods. The piece de resistance, for all 100% of them we really don’t know how they interact with our human biology.

Actionable Items

So what’s the takeaway? Should we all just say “i don’t give a fcuk” and be all “I’m here for a good time not a long time” like George Strait and Drake? No I’m not recommending that at all. Regardless of how long you are on this 3rd rock from the sun, and how many laps you end up making, chances are you’re going to want to be in a position to enjoy it. Looking after yourself is the best way to do that. I guess the whole point of this article is for us to take a chill pill when it comes to what we eat and not be so rigid in what we think is “good for you”. Keto, Paleo, eat carbs, don’t eat carbs yada yada.

Truth be told, we just don’t know. The only thing we do know is the best “diet” is the one you can stick to permanently.


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