Fighting the Dark Side of Food Shopping

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Lightsaber of the Supermarket

Imagine a device for grocery shopping that you could point at a head of broccoli or a lemon – or any other fruit or vegetable – to get an immediate nutritional analysis of the particular produce you planned to buy.

Now imagine this device also telling you how that fruit or vegetable would taste.

Think of it as your lightsaber for the supermarket. Built around a real laser sensor, this technology could one day be designed into your smartphone. Its mission: to help you fight the nutritional vacuum that is the Dark Side of food shopping. No longer could insipid fruit and veg hide behind a perfect (and flavorless) skin. One laser zap and the truth would be revealed.

Dan Kittredge quote

It sounds like science fiction, but the technology already exists, according to Dan Kittredge, organic farmer and executive director of the Bionutrient Food Association. In Bulletproof Radio’s Episode #308,  Kittredge explained the concept to Bulletproof CEO and founder Dave Asprey:

( Video transcript below.) [1]

What we eat impacts the quality of our lives

Why does accurate information about food quality matter? Simple. We rely on fresh veggies and fruit to support our health and vitality.

High-quality, performance-enhancing fruit and vegetables are an important part of the Bulletproof Diet. Of course, right now, the organic label can help you choose in the supermarket. Yet sometimes organic tastes just as bland as conventional produce, and nutrition can be lacking in both. [2]

Dan Kittredge puts it this way:  “The USDA data … says basically that average nutrient levels in crops have been decreasing since they’ve been documenting it for the past 80 years.”

In addition, not all spinach is created equal. Much depends on soil quality and farming techniques. So the nutrients listed for spinach in a reference book could actually be misleading.

To know exactly what you’ll be putting in your body, and the benefits you’ll receive, you need to measure the food you are going to eat. And that means measuring any toxins on it as well.

(Video transcript below. ) [3]


Game-changer for shopping

Is this the kind of project that inspires investors who seek social good? Who knows? One thing is certain – most of us want accurate information about the food we eat. And if a supermarket lightsaber helps us choose high-quality produce, it means we will be leaving more of the low quality stuff on the shelves. And that could be a game-changer. If flavorless, low-nutrition food doesn’t sell, the marketplace will fix a problem that impacts everyone’s health. One day, we might even be able to use our smartphones to zap a rutabaga and find out if it really provides the vitamin C, potassium and taste we want.

(Video transcript  below.) [4]

Check your the quality of your veggies now

But some of you may not want to wait for this new gizmo. And for those people … there already exists a technology, called a refractometer, which can measure nutrients in drops of “sap” from ripe fruit and vegetables. This device measures total dissolved solids in whatever’s tested. And that includes carbohydrates.

Now carbohydrates aren’t exactly the mainstay of the Bulletproof Diet. (As most people reading this know, we prefer healthy fats.) But in this case, the high concentration of carbohydrates often correlates to better taste, higher mineral content, longer shelf life (naturally) and better natural resistance to insects and pests. This system, called Brix, is commonly used by vintners and brewers. But there are also ways to apply it to the produce we eat.

And if you don’t want to use a gizmo, both Dave and Dan agree that the most important sensing device doesn’t need batteries.

(Video transcript below.) [5]

The question remains — would people really use a laser to help them find better-tasting, nutritious food? Only one way to find out. Wait till a prototype is ready and then let biohackers take it through its paces.


Coda: how growing healthy food might address climate change

(Video transcript below.) [6]



[1] First video clip transcript

DAN: “The fantasy vision here is that you can take something like a pointer from a PowerPoint presentation and you can flash it at a cucumber and it’ll tell you relatively poor, average, excellent. Or a carrot or a cucumber.

“Those compounds that correlate with flavor and nutrition are aromatic compounds, they’re secondary metabolites. There’s fancy names for them, terpenoids and phenolics and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, but they actually have different chemical structures and different physics vibrations. If you flash a light and that light is tuned right, and the meter that bounces back is tuned right, it can tell you relatively, this is a high-quality cucumber.

“Our objective with the organization with the BFA is not to have a label, not to have a certification process but to have an empirical metric which is the science of quality and we give that to the consumer because for better or for worse in today’s day and age, money seems to talk … Most people don’t grow their own food. Those who buy food — a lot of people these days — are getting sick. A lot of people go to doctors. A lot of people are on various pharmaceuticals because they’re degenerating, they’re breaking down they’re physiologically not functioning well. That has at the root of it, food quality as the solution, as far as I’m concerned.

“If we can give consumers who care about their health and the health of their children, the health of their spouses, et cetera, the ability to test quality in the grocery store, at the Farmers Market … if we can give them the ability to test quality and look beyond the label of the marketing and all that jazz, to really understand empirically what’s in and what’s not in your food. The idea is that that would have a dramatic effect on the food supply at large.”

[2] A 2011 Scientific American article blames soil depletion for significant losses in protein, vitamins, and minerals since 1950. .)

[3] Second video clip transcript-

DAVE: “Like you, I dream of being able to walk into a coffee house, shine the laser at coffee beans so like, “You know what, those are clean, I’ll drink those.” As it is now, I use laboratory testing that isn’t mass spectrometer based for some of the toxins and the mass spectrometer  for other toxins. How close are we to having the magic laser says this is nutrient-dense food and it looks almost the same as this not nutrient-dense food? Are we years or decades away from this?

Dan:    “It’s more of a question of money than time.

Dave:  “How many dollars away are we?

Dan:   ” Millions. Less than hundreds of millions, probably more than 10. It could be decades. It could be 2 or 3 years. Logistically, what we’re doing in the backend with the organization is we’ve done some rudimentary research projects but what we really had to do was we had to establish a comprehensive data set for carrots. The comparison data set for cucumbers and tomatoes and everything else, what’s the spectrum of variation, minerals, compounds, amino acids, protein secondary metabolites and then what’s the spectral signature of these things. Then build a data set and then an algorithm and program a gizmo. I mean it’s a question of logistics. We, as an organization, fairly young and fairly small and that means we don’t have the resources. It’s a question of building the momentum and the relationships….”

[4] Transcript for third video clip:

Dan:  “I have definitely been approached by people who are willing to put venture funding in and the idea there is that they own it. I mean, what we’re trying to do with a nonprofit is to say this should be an open source dataset. This should not be proprietary. This should be transparent and anybody who is curious or is suspicious or critical or anything can look at it, can look at all the science, can look at the information. You don’t have to trust us.

They can actually do their own due diligence. Anybody who wants to manufacture a tool, here’s a data set. If you can build a tool that can do it, go for it. We’ll give you our sealed approval. We’re talking about, ideally, this is a couple hundred dollar gizmo. This is the price of smart phone and really ideally a couple generations down -version 2.0 and 3.0 – it is an app that can be downloaded on your smartphone and your smartphone camera can take that picture.”

[5] Transcript for fourth video clip

DAVE: “Something that makes me laugh though is like we have this amazing array of equipment for sensing the environment around us and now we’re looking at making a laser to test the cucumber instead of just taking a bite being, “This cucumber sucks.”

Dan: “It’s ironic but the fact is we’ve been dumbed down. We have lost our … No, we haven’t lost them, these senses. We have not trained them. I mean, what’s still boggles my mind is that people don’t like things like broccoli and beets. Only when I go and eat store-bought stuff do I understand why because they taste like crap. We do have the sensing techniques in peaches. I mean, buy a store-bought peach …

Dave:  “They’re gross.

Dan:    “They’re repugnant. Then pick a peach off a tree that’s ripe and you’re like, “Oh my god, that’s a revelatory experience.”

[6] This is the last video clip transcript:

DAN: “My understanding is that every green leaf has, what makes it green is chlorophyll and what is in chlorophyll is the chloroplast. Every green leaf you see is full of chloroplast. What happens in that chloroplast is carbon dioxide and water and sunlight are turned into sugar and oxygen. In a healthy plant, one that is not fed soluble nutrients, not fed an NPK diet whether organic or conventional, a healthy plant takes up to 2/3 of that sugar it manufactures, injects it into the soil, to feed soil life because the soil life solubilizes the soil. Gets the copper and the zinc out of the soil, digested into a protoplasmic form and feed it to the plant.

“The foundation of how plants grow is that they make sure they inject the sugar into the soil, to feed soil life who then go out and solubilize the soil to feed up to the plant. A corollary of that process is you’re taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere putting it into the soil. My understanding is you can increase organic meta levels by 1/2% a year simply through growing plants, not adding compost, not bringing mulch, simply growing healthy plants sequesters carbon and if you were to apply that conceptually on the world’s agricultural lens, we’re talking like 3 or 4 years to sequester all the carbon that’s been added to the atmosphere since 1750.
“Anybody who’s got a problem with global warming this is your answer, healthy food. Growing crops, actually healthy food, not only is it good for you, it’s actually good for the environment.”

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By Bulletproof Staff