Quantum Nutrition: A Short Introduction

In 2013, in my first semester of graduate school, I had an idea:

“What if we could trace the effects of a single nutrient from physics/chemistry/geology up through biology, past neuroscience and behavior, through all other areas of the university, from economics and art history to geopolitics and beyond?”

Not until 2017 did I realize this is what the true scientific study of “nutrition” attempts to do. It simply lacks an adequate theory to make testable predictions and unify other related scientific fields.

 


Table of Contents


Current Definition and Problems

 

Archaic definitions

Here are a few conventional definitions of the word “nutrition” from the web:

Websters’:

the act or process of nourishing or being nourished; specifically : the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant takes in and utilizes food substances. / foods that are necessary for human nutrition

Cambridge:

the process by which the body takes in and uses food, esp. food that it needs to stay healthy, or the scientific study of this process

 

There are several major problems with these and other standard definitions of the word nutrition:

  • They use the word “food” or “nourish,” which itself, being from the Latin nutrire, centers around the idea of “food.” This may be useful for those with more philosophical conceptions of the word “food.” Unfortunately, in modern America and conventional “nutrition science,” the word food is usually conceptually disconnected from the concepts of air and water, even more necessary to nourish life. Modern “nutrition science” essentially ignores air, water, and their nourishment.
  • They often refer anthropomorphically to the human body, as opposed to the biological concept of the cell (or another accepted model) or the concept of any multicellular organism.
  • They fail to account for essential subatomic particles and processes.

 


From “Vitamins and Minerals” to “Minerals and Molecules”

Worse, the term “vitamin” has no good scientific definition, and the archaic “vitamin and mineral” model is outdated and nearly useless. Here are three reasons:

  1. “Vitamin D” (cholecalciferol) has been well known for decades, scientifically, to be a hormone. It is not an essential dietary nutrient; rather, it is an essential hormone synthesized by human skin when cellular processes use light to convert the molecule 7-Dehydrocholesterol to “previtamin D3” and later cholecalciferol itself. However, the subatomic particle known as a photon (at 290-315 nm) is a necessary nutrient, absorbed in humans by the skin and used as noted.
  2. Most “vitamins” are actually groups of molecules, such as the A group, the B group, the E group, and the K group. To my knowledge, only “vitamin C” refers a single individual molecule: ascorbic acid.
  3. With each passing year, it appears that there are other “essential molecules,” such as the so-called pseudovitamins and phytonutrients, potentially known molecules like caffeine, nicotine, or DMT, and many others. Given the complexity and ability of the various micro-biomes to evolve and synthesize molecules based on other nutritional inputs, some humans may have bacterial synthesis of essential dietary molecules whereas others do not, so the word “essential” is quite problematic. However, there are certainly undocumented essential molecules (just as there are undocumented essential elements).

We must therefore move towards a better categorization of nutrients.

While subatomic particles must be technically included (below), the phrases “atoms and molecules” or “elements and molecules” are scientifically accurate phrases to replace “vitamin and mineral.” However, I suggest the phrase “minerals and molecules” for the public, using the periodic table for the former, and reminding the public that a molecule is simple an individual arrangement of bonded atoms. The term “mineral” from “minerals and molecules” would be technically inaccurate, since elements on the periodic table like Carbon and Nitrogen are not minerals per se, but “minerals and molecules” serves as a better phrase for public adoption to promote education and awareness. (Unless the public forgets that for humans, the photon is also an essential subatomic nutrient.)

While these are good starting points to inform public opinion, we still need acceptable scientific definitions in order to make testable hypotheses, to carry nutrition into the modern century, and to prepare it for the next.


A New Theory

 

What is the definition of nutrition?

Nutrition is the study of nutrients and their effects.

What is the definition of a nutrient?

A nutrient is a particle without which an acid-based (amino acid, nucleic acid, etc.) function or reaction cannot occur. For the public: a nutrient is a particle (subatomic, atomic, or molecular) used in a biochemical reaction.

 

How can we categorize nutrients?

Nutrients should be categorized based on standard models from the physical sciences:

  • subatomic particles (photons, electrons, protons, etc.),
  • atoms (lithium, oxygen, sodium, sulfur, etc.),
  • molecules (ascorbic acid, α-Linolenic acid, etc.),
  • and even (optionally) whole cellular organelles and/or organisms.
    • Note: It does not seem likely that whole organelles or cells are used as “nutrients” without being broken down into component macro-molecules and smaller particles first. However, from another perspective, it not only seems likely, it seems a historical biological fact: the “first” mitochondrion was likely an independent cellular entity, consumed or assimilated, in a sense, as a mutually-beneficial symbiotic “nutrient.” Perspective indeed!

 

Naming a Theory

Quantum or quanta may have a few varying definitions in the physical sciences. While the word comes from the Latin quantus, meaning “how great,” in the early 1900s it came to signify the smallest measurable unit. This is especially true of the electromagnetic force, as quantum came to signify the smallest relevant particles: a single electron, a “fermion” with mass; or the photon, a type of “boson,” the massless force-carrier of the electromagnetic force. Quantum often now refers to both indivisible sub-atomic particles and the unpredictable nature of studying these particles.

Quantum is thus a perfect, relevant word for a unifying physical theory of nutrition, although it need not be used only to refer to the electron, photon, and other subatomic particles. Here, the word quantum can be used in a general sense: the smallest useful subatomic, atomic, or molecular unit of nutrition. This is critical, because these three divisions must form the foundation of the future study of nutrition; for example: an electron or photon, versus a single lithium or sodium ion, versus molecular oxygen or caffeine. While larger molecular elements — long chain fatty acids and peptides — are obviously nutrients, they work well under the third molecular division, studied individually or collectively.

As such, a unifying theory of nutrition should be called quantum nutrition or quantum nutrition theory.

 

Questions

This presents numerous questions (thousands, actually). For example:

  • How can we define and differentiate an “essential” or “beneficial” nutrient?
  • What is the difference between a nutrient and a drug?
  • How can we organize nutritional molecules into useful categories?
  • Might there be an organizational approach similar to the standard model or periodic table for these molecules?
  • How can we account for modern, unique, synthesized molecules, which often have negative effects on whole organisms?
  • How can we define “life” and account for entropic decay?
  • What individual diseases, cultural adaptations, and societal challenges are predicted?

 


 

The Future: Unifying the Scientific Disciplines

From physical vs. social sciences towards a unified concept of the sciences

Because nutrients influence all known biochemical processes, nutrition connects physics, chemistry, and other physical sciences to biology, psychology, and all associated scientific disciplines, such as economics, culture, religion, and philosophy. An effective model of nutrition bridges the “gap” between the so-called natural vs. social sciences, allowing, at long last, us to retire the concept of “social sciences.” At some point this century, an effective model of nutrition will allow us to make predictions based on the effects of nutritional photon intake on economic decision making in northern latitudes; or, if all else could be controlled for, nutrition could make predictions on how varying soil levels of magnesium in Northwest vs. Southeast African populations affects leadership styles of elected politicians. This may take decades, of course, but the basic ideas already exist.

We need only connect the dots.

Where to begin?

 

Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation:
The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser ($10, amazon.com link)

…”the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) later fined National Beef for its negligence. The fine was $480 for each man’s death.

This book was released in 2001, I read it in 2013, and I’m writing this report in 2015. I believe it had an afterward from the ten year release of the book, but despite this fact, since most of my highlights are from the bulk of the book — which is basically fifteen years old — I’m going to write this based mostly on the information in the original version, then close based on the afterward and what’s changed.

Eric gives a bit of the history of McDonald’s, and thus how not only this franchise was born, but the overall history of franchising itself. But then he discusses the problems of the system, both its effects on the country and planet, workers, and risks for consumers and the end product.

“The real price never appears on the menu.”

That includes the price of the subsidies we directly pay to the government, which pays to farmers (great?) and industry (not so much?), the taxes we pay for roads and other indirect public services which contribute to this industry, and worse, the price we pay for our poor health. And we cannot forget that healthcare’s rising percentage of GDP is one of the most dangerous threats to western civilizations…

Themes explored in the book:

  • Bringing junk food, especially beverages, into schools, and how these companies pay for schools; how basically our public schools have whored themselves out.
  • Restaurant franchises, their high turnover of employees, how they purchase satellite imagery and are really in the real-estate business!
  • A brief bit on flavors and food scientists, how they concoct the perfect smelling (especially) foods.
  • Ranchers: how the traits that we Americans love in our ideal rancher — independence, a little rebellion, an ideal to work the land — lead this lifestyle to die and large companies to take over.
  • A brief on ConAgra and how a massive corporation — which nobody has ever even heard of — will sell food under scores or dozens of brands!
  • The horrors of meatpackers, how dangerous the life is, and how dangerous the meat it produces really is. And this isn’t simply because of the crap the animals are fed, but because of the way they and the workers are treated, their conditions, and the desire for speed and efficiency.

“A single fast food hamburger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different cattle.”

“The medical literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: coliform levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, MacConkey agar, and so on. Behind them lies a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat”.

And what has changed? Our country is learning; there is hope: we are buying more from farmer’s markets, more grass-fed food, more locally. And while it’s debatable whether this is too little, too late for America – especially when we consider the arguments in The Third Plate, that we cannot let customers (or chefs) decide what to eat – it’s still good progress for our country. Parents are fighting back against crap served in schools, against corporate interests and influence; eating fast food is seen as cheap and well known to be poor for health. Without seeing the data on junk or fast food consumption in our country, or seeing if obesity rates have peaked, I am hopeful: you can feel it in the air, at least in the areas I’ve lived. Once the American south starts changing its eating habits, I feel our renaissance will really pick up speed.

“Instead of importing food, they import entire systems of agricultural production.”

Still, elsewhere in the world, especially in more “developing nations,” I have less hope and more caution. It is disgusting that eating fast food is a status symbol in these nations. Our food system may be changing in America because of pressure by books like this one, but that food system is likely the same in these countries, because it’s cheap and the people remain ignorant. What is proven to make money will spread more quickly than what (is almost never really) proven to be healthier, more sustainable, more environmentally respectful…

Eric’s afterword nicely summarizes what we can do, and what we have done to change our country successfully. But little matter: our country will stand or fall with the rest of the Earth, our fate is tied to it. By exporting our ideas, we have exported our problems; we can only hope — and act — to also export the solutions (responsible, ethical leadership) before it is too late:

“The market is a tool, and a useful one. But the worship of this tool is a hollow faith. Far more important than any tool is what you make with it. “

Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first step toward meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit. The usefulness of the market, its effectiveness as a tool, cuts both ways.”

I hope we change course before the rest of the world — or planet earth itself — kicks our asses for the destruction we are causing.

 

Food Rules & In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto Michael Pollan, 2008-2009

Food Rules , 2009
&
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, 2008
Michael Pollan

I have a theory that a writer’s second book, which is what this one is for me, is the most difficult to write and the most revealing to read. To borrow a metaphor from geometry, a first book is like a point in the infinite space of literary possibility: it can be about anything and leads nowhere in particular.

Three years between these book’s release and my time reading them, and three more years before writing these reviews. I thought I’d read another Pollan book, but perhaps I haven’t…

In order for natural selection to help us adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die.”

If I’m being honest, sometimes I wish we would. Still…that isn’t what this book is about! I obviously enjoy Michael Pollan and his writing. In Defense of Food is a book about food in general, whereas Food Rules in a short treatise with a summary of his “rules” for being healthy through food from his years researching the field.

One of the best themes was how “Nutritionism might be the best thing ever to happen to the food industry,” because it allows for a somewhat limited (in the hundreds, or thousands of types of foods) to be made into an infinite concoction of foods — each one can compete with the others, and consumers always need to buy more.

Pollan summarizes Ames, who I think is the man also mentioned in The Third Plate behind the “micronutrient hypothesis,” that animals, including humans, will eat as much as necessary to satisfy micronutrient needs, and no less.

Moreover, Pollan briefly states a symptom of the problem — we’ve reversed our spending on food and healthcare in fifty years. We take pride that we spend so little on food; we’re almost on the bottom of the list in terms of the % of family income which we spend on food. And while this certainly doesn’t mean that buying an expensive restaurant dinner — or the choicest cut of beef — is inherently healthy, it does suggest that spending more on food, and less on cheap, processed crap, will improve our health.

 

Food “rules” I’m already good at following:

  • Eat fermented foods
  • Eat sweet foods only as they’re found in nature!
  • “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead”

  • Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods.
  • When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables.”

 

  • Some additional “rules” found in the longer book that should be added:
    • Avoid products that make health claims. Any “real” food doesn’t have labels, ingredients, and its industry doesn’t have the money to create such marketing campaigns.
    • View foods based on their degree of processing, and eat the least processed. This is probably the strongest rule!
    • Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.”

    • COOK AND, IF YOU CAN, PLANT A GARDEN.”

Rules I need to focus on more:

  • Avoid big fish, at the top of the food chain, and opt for those lower down.
  • Eat to only 80% capacity!
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.”

  • Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.”

  • Grow a vegetable garden!
  • Drink wine (I disagree)
  • Don’t eat too much protein (I disagree)