Garbage Contains All of the Nutrients Missing from Our Diet

A new study analyzes the nutrition value of food waste and it’s got everything our diet is lacking.

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May 23 2017, 2:00pm

Turns out raccoons might have the right idea: we could all use a little more trash in our diet.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently published a study that calculated the nutritional value of the roughly 60 tons of food we waste every year. They found that if we ate these foods instead of throwing them away, we could close the nutritional deficiency in millions of Americans' daily diets.

"When asking how much nutrients are wasted, we knew the answer was probably going to be 'a lot,'" said Marie Spiker, a health researcher at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study. "But the magnitude of it was striking to us."

Spiker and her colleagues were specifically interested in looking at nutrients that Americans don't typically get enough of, such as vitamin C, dietary fiber, and calcium. They compared a database of average nutritional values of certain food items to the Department of Agriculture's estimates for how much of eat food commodity is thrown out each day to determine how much of these nutrients we're missing out on by throwing them in the trash.

Overall, the study found that on an average day, the food we throw away contains enough nutrients to provide every American with an additional 1,217 calories, 33 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, 286 milligrams of calcium, and 880 milligrams of potassium.

In a single day, American food waste contains an average 1.8 billion grams of dietary fiber, for example. American women typically under-consumer fiber by 8.9 grams per day, which means the fiber found in our trash would provide enough to close the gap in daily intake requirements for 206.6 million adult women.

"For Vitamin C, the food we throw away in a given day contains enough vitamin C to provide to full recommended intake for almost 60 percent of the entire adult population," Spiker said. "Over half of people could have their full vitamin C intake provided for just from the stuff we're throwing away."

Lots have studies have already measured the magnitude of our wood waste problem, showing that we throw away roughly 40 percent of our food. And we're not throwing out junk food and rotten eggs; we're mostly throwing out nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Spiker told me there are a lot of things that contribute to food waste, but some of the biggest fixes we could make to curb the problem would be standardized food date labeling (because what does "best before" mean anyhow?) and better systems to help wholesalers and supermarkets transfer excess food to those who can use it, like food banks.

Other lifestyle changes, include being more realistic at the grocery store (if you usually only cook dinner one night a week, what makes you think you'll make a five-course meal every night this week?) and making the effort to use the ingredients we do buy.

"Once we've made a decision and brought food into our home, we should try to incorporate those foods into meals and eat leftovers, even when it would be so much easier to order takeout," Spiker said.

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