Can food waste improve health?

For years, food producers stripped food of ingredients and nutrients to make food cheaper and easier to fight hunger. What they didn’t realize, however, was that they also stripped away our ability to fight disease.

Study after study show that the number of people suffering from diet-related diseases and allergies has grown significantly in recent years. Research continues to suggest that eating organic foods, minimally touched by the food industry, is the best prevention. But, as many know all too well, maintaining an all-organic diet is expensive.

But there is an alternative.

The challenge has always been that reducing the cost of food often means stripping it of key nutrients, as primary ingredients are replaced with cheaper filler (mostly from corn). In many cases, food producers are actually stripping away and discarding something that is valuable for our health.

What if we can put back the discarded nutrient and normalize our health without expensive organic options? But what is that nutrient?

Scientists from UC Davis decided to study breast milk as the ultimate meal, prepared by Mother Nature, and compare it to the meals on our plates.

They learned that the third most abundant nutrient in breast milk is not even digestible by babies. They simply cannot process it, as the scientists discovered by analyzing the contents of dirty baby diapers.  

The question then became, why would such a perfect, wholesome meal as breast milk even include so much of such a useless ingredient?

To find the answer, they fed newborns with breast milk and milk substitutes. They compared the levels of diseases and mortality, and the kids fed with alternatives had significantly higher rates. When they analyzed the babies’ waste, they discovered that the diversity and the volume of bacteria were different. Thus, they learned that this unabsorbed ingredient was food not for the baby, but for its bugs (i.e., good bacteria). These bugs, known as microbiome, act as the second immune system against diet-related diseases.

What is the name of this ingredient? Oligosaccharides. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. What’s more important than how it’s pronounced, is what it does to protect us.

Unfortunately, for many years, the food industry did not understand its benefit. They just knew it was indigestible and, subsequently did not consider it an essential component. As a result, it was among the components stripped from food their efforts to cut costs. But, with the good bacteria in our microbiome left without food, our bodies became far more vulnerable to diet-related diseases and allergies.

Now that scientists have discovered the existence and importance of Oligosaccharides, the most important question is how do we reintroduce it back into our bodies?

Should we ask nutritionists to produce new vitamins? Perhaps. But before we ask that of vitamin makers, who have a tendency to produce their own waste, we would be better off finding natural solutions that don’t waste more food and nutrients.

The good news is that oligosaccharides are a component of fiber from plant tissue. We can get fiber from vegetables, fruits with peels, whole grain baked products and many other sources.

One thing that is important to remember: the food industry cut prices (and nutrients) not only to be more competitive; they also did it to fight hunger.  Fighting hunger will only get more challenging. We anticipate an extra 1.5 billion people on the planet by 2050. We cannot simply say, “let’s grow and produce more food.”

The land is limited, as are water, energy, and other resources required for farming. We cannot endlessly increase the pressure on the planet. A better way forward is to think about how to put back the nutrients that already exist in plants, but end up discarded and wasted by the food industry.

But are you ready to eat the waste? Do you use other inexpensive hacks to improve the health? Check the video from UC Davis, let’s chat.