We’re only as healthy as our soil

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Did you know the nutrients you put in your body come directly from your food’s soil?  The healthier the soil, the more nutrients and greater density of vitamins and minerals in your food. You really are only as healthy as your soil—what crops “eat” can influence the nutrients on our own plates.

Dirt to Dinner believes that both conventional and organic farming have a place in our modern-day farming efforts to increase yields on existing land in order to feed a growing global population. That said, regenerative ag practices span all farming methods on both conventional and organic farms and may just be the key to healthy soils and even more nutritious foods.

If you’d like more information on what “regenerative” means, here is more detail.

It’s summertime, so let’s take a look at blueberries. Wild and freshly picked off the bush, these blueberries taste sweet and explode with flavor. In the wintertime, purchased in the grocery store, you run the risk of eating something that might taste like cardboard.

And the differences don’t stop with seasonality and taste: wild blueberries have higher minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and polyphenols, while their cultivated counterpart has higher iron and cadmium contents. Why the difference between the two types? The soil!

As we have previously written, soil is not just dirt. The world within the soil is more diverse than all the species in the Amazon rainforest. It is full of nutrients, minerals, microbiota, and fungi, just to name a few ingredients. All of these microorganisms work together to produce the nutrients that plants need to grow and that we need to stay healthy.

Studies have shown that regenerative agriculture is the best type of farming to enhance the nutrients in the soil. Regenerative farming practices reduce disturbances to the soil while nurturing its biology. These techniques include practices like no-till farming, the use of biodiverse cover crops, crop rotation methods, utilizing sustainable manure, and integrating livestock to support the life of the soil. What is especially great about regenerative agriculture is that farmers can tailor their practices to a specific crop, location and type of land, and water availability.

These farming practices have been shown to increase organic matter in the soil, reduce water evaporation, and improve water-holding capacity. Those benefits, in turn, help support carbon sequestration, reduce erosion, and, as we now know from a study published in Peer Journal, improve the nutritional profiles of crops and livestock grown on regenerative land.

Ultimately, healthy soil = nutrient-dense foods!

Conversely, unhealthy soil can produce foods lacking in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

The Study

By examining eight pairs of regenerative and conventional farms across the US, researchers compared the nutritional content of food crops grown using the two different farming practices. The findings detailed that food produced on regenerative farms contained more magnesium, calcium, potassium, and zinc, as well as more phytochemicals and vitamins B1, B12, C, E, and K. This study supports the theory that what crops “eat” directly impacts its nutrition.

Participating farmers in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, Kansas, North Dakota, and Montana agreed to regeneratively grow one acre of peas, sorghum, corn, or soybeans. On a neighboring acre, the same crop was grown using conventional methods. Furthermore, one meat producer participated.

“Most notably, soil health appears to influence phytochemical levels in crops,” the authors write, “indicating that regenerative farming systems can enhance dietary levels of compounds known to reduce risk of various chronic diseases.”

The primary variable in this study was the farming technique—one that had been conventionally farmed for years, with the other applying regenerative practices. The study controlled for key variables given the adjacent plots of land, providing consistency with regard to weather, equipment, and soil type.

David Montgomery, professor of Earth and Space Science at the University of Washington, noted that regenerative practices yielded crops with more anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants across the board. He and Anne Bikle are co-authors of the newly released book, What Your Food Ate. Their book goes into great depth to show the correlation between soil health and human health, referencing many foundational studies that set the tone for this new research.

This research is compounded by many other studies, including nutrient density studies, density evaluation tools studies, research on where we get our nutrients, assessments of our current land and soil, soil health in various agricultural systems, and global soil resources.

Linking your health to soil

The links between soil, crop, and human health cannot be stressed enough. Consumers often don’t think of the source of their foods. For instance, when eating a spinach salad, most of us just think as far as the local grocer. But what about the storage facility that kept it refrigerated while waiting to be stocked at retail or the trucking company that transported it from the farm to the wholesaler? Or how about the farm that provided land and labor, the seed that gave the crop life, or all the way back to its life in the ground, the dirt…. the soil?  And while all the links in the supply chain play critical roles in keeping our expansive and complex food system functioning, it all starts with the soil.

We have written at length about the importance of your gut microbiome, a critical component of human health and debatably as crucial as your brain in keeping your body functioning. Let’s think of soil’s microbiome in the same way—a critical yet overlooked component in determining the nutrient density of our food. Healthy soil comprises millions of diverse microbes, including fungi, bacteria, and other compounds. As the newest Peer Journal study states, our school of thought should really be:

“It may be that one of our biggest levers for trying to combat the modern public health epidemic of chronic diseases is to rethink our diet, and not just what we eat, but how we grow it.”

It is easier to see the correlation between the soil and plants, but the study also revealed that the soil impacted the beef producer. The study found that the beef from the regenerative farm versus the conventional farm had three times more omega-3 fats, specifically, more than six times the amount of alpha-linolenic acid (an essential omega-3). The cattle grazing on the land had meat samples taken from both the regenerative and conventional farms. A comparison was made, showing the direct impact that the soil had on the cattle and, ultimately, the beef we will eat.

A solution for carbon sequestration

This research also revealed some environmental implications. With the threat of climate change growing with each passing year, there is a broad consensus that regenerative agriculture could be a scalable solution. Montgomery’s study noted that soil samples from the regenerative plots had twice as much carbon in the topsoil as well as a “soil health score” three times higher based on the USDA’s Haney test for soil health. Other studies also explored the overall soil health of regenerative ag vs. conventional and similarly concluded regenerative ag’s benefits to soil.

The figure above shows the distributions of soil health metrics for regenerative ag (in blue) and conventional ag (in red). SOM is the percentage of soil organic matter, followed by the Haney test scores, as well as the ratios of paired regenerative and conventional farms value for % soil organic matter and Haney test scores.

In the future, when you go to the grocery store, you will soon be able to see the nutrient density and environmental impact of your food. This will be a primary factor in consumer purchasing habits. According to New Nutrition Business, a food and nutrition consultancy, the concept of ‘nutrient-dense’ foods is being mentioned more in the US Dietary Guidelines than ever before.

Companies are also taking note, using farming practices as a marketing tool in selling their products. The appeal to consumers is growing, and thus, so is the prevalence of the value of healthy soil. We are sure to see this reflected in labeling down the road.

Getting consumers on board

It is not just the small operations applying regenerative ag practices on their farms; a few prominent companies are committing to regenerative farming partners for their supply, including PepsiCo, Walmart, General Mills, Unilever, Danone, Land O’Lakes, and Hormel, among others.

According to Mintel’s recent report, The Future of Food Sourcing & the Supply Chain, consumers will pay extra for farmers implementing environmental impact solutions, even in the current inflationary environment. When we did our survey on trusted sources, farmers were trusted along with scientists, healthcare professionals, and educators.

The challenge with soil is that it is hard to get the everyday consumer to think about it, let alone care about it. The hope is that with more prominent research like this, soil health, farming practices, and the nutrient density of your food choices will be top of mind the next time you are picking out your fruits, veggies, proteins or any unprocessed foods, for that matter.

Just remember, all your nutrients come from dirt, so the next time you reach for your blueberries, think: were these wild blueberries, picked off the vine, grown in nutrient-dense soil? Seek food grown regeneratively when possible, to get the most nutrients from your foods. After all, what you can consume each day is limited, so why not make the most of it.

5 Key Nutrients for Mitochondrial Health

Whether you’re looking for quick information or want something to impress your friends at dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Many of us know mitochondria as the “powerhouse of the cell” from middle school biology. But what you may not know is that our diet directly impacts the function of our mitochondria, which affects our long-term health. Here are five nutrients you can add to your diet to improve your mitochondrial function!

1. CoQ10

CoQ10 is the primary antioxidant in human cells. We need oxygen because it’s critical in energy production. We need antioxidants because they help protect mitochondria from excess strain or other damage.

We should aim to consume between 90-200 milligrams of CoQ10 every day. Some foods that contain high amounts of CoQ10 are chicken thighs, peanuts, spinach, and avocado.

2. Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is also an antioxidant that’s found in every cell. Not only does it turn glucose into energy, but it also is crucial in recharging vital antioxidants that improve mitochondrial health, like CoQ10.

Lipoic acid can be taken as a supplement, but it’s also found in some whole foods like red meat, carrots, spinach, and broccoli.

3. Acetyl L-Carnitine

Acetyl L-Carnitine is another antioxidant that helps rid the body of free radicals and promotes liver detoxification. It also helps us keep our immune systems strong by boosting T-cell activation. It can also be taken as a supplement or can be found in foods like beef, chicken, milk, and cheese.

Learn how Acetyl L-Carnitine and Lipoic Acid work together in the body here.

4. Resveratrol

Resveratrol has both pro-oxidant effects and antioxidant effects on mitochondria. It also helps improve respiratory activity in the mitochondria, reprogramming efficiency in the cells, and cell growth. It’s suggested to consume between 5mg and 100mg every day.

Many of the foods that contain resveratrol are part of the Mediterranean diet. These foods include red wine, blueberries, dark chocolate, and peanuts.

5. Vitamin E

Vitamin E has three primary functions in mitochondrial health. These include preventing thyroid hormone-induced changes, reducing free radical production, and causing beneficial reactions in cells. It’s the first line of defense to protect the mitochondrial membrane.

We should try to consume 15mg of Vitamin E every day. Foods high in Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, avocados, broccoli, and olive oil.

The Rise of Alternative Proteins

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Imagination is a wonderful thing. It is even more incredible when you can realize your dreams. Did you ever think you would eat meat and get your protein from air…yeast…peas…and even mushrooms? These are new sources of protein that replicate the livestock, fish and poultry many of us eat every day…and they taste like the real thing, too.

Which would you choose?

Most consumers don’t yet realize that there are three different types of alternative proteins that achieve the desired amino acid profile.

Plant-based Proteins

Most people are familiar with plant-based burgers such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.  Impossible is sold everywhere from Target to Starbucks to Walmart to your local grocery store. The perception is that it is healthier than regular meat because it is made from plants. In truth, it depends on the burger, how it was made, the nutritional profile introduced, and the number of ingredients.

Despite all the marketing, the consumer places alternative burgers slightly behind your traditional black bean and veggie burger which may be why Morningstar Farms has the largest unit sales in the frozen section. Chicken alternatives like Daring and Abbot’s Butcher come in third. Interestingly enough, of those surveyed, 66% of consumers prefer to get their alternative meat when they buy their groceries.

Cultivated Proteins 

Egg whites without chickens, fish without the fins, and meat without the animal are all examples of cultivated protein. Instead of being raised on a farm or in the sea, scientists take cells directly from an animal, or bird, or fish, and grow the cells in a lab bioreactor. It is a complicated and safe technology that puts together the animal cells, mixes it with the right speed, and then adds in aeration and various nutrients. These added nutrients are expensive and there are many: glucose, 20 essential and non-essential amino acids, fatty acids, phosphate, trace minerals, and various vitamins, hormones, and other growth factors.

Some of the benefits touted for these proteins are that there are no pesticides, antibiotics, or any ingredients associated with feeding animals. The knowledge and technology are prolific at various companies and university labs all around the world.  Although it could take quite a few years to scale up enough cells to feed 10 billion people eight ounces of protein each day for the same cost as animal-based meat.

Despite its challenges, Singapore’s FDA equivalent was the first regulatory agency to approve cultured meat grown by Esco Aster in partnership with Eat Just.

Fermented Proteins

In this case, it is milk without the cow, or fermenting mushrooms to make dairy, meat, protein powder, and food ingredients, or turning sugars from grain into burgers, chicken, noodles, and snacks. Fermented protein technology is difficult, but the concept is as old as the the creation of beer, wine, sauerkraut, and yogurt.

In ancient times, fermentation used microbes in food, and still uses that same method today. And to make protein alternatives it ferments a variety of live microorganisms to make anything that can be made from an animal, plant, bird, or fish.

What does the future hold?

Each year the technology gets stranger and more real. According to Pitchbook, since 2010, alternative protein start-ups have raised $11 billion, with $8 billion of that raised in just the past two years.

By 2035, Boston Consulting, and other firms, predict that there will be $290 billion invested. That is more, as of this writing, of the market cap of two large protein companies: Tyson and JBS combined. However, these proteins make up less than 1% of the total protein we consume. According to Statista Consumer Market Outlook, the average U.S. per capita consumption was about 0.6 pounds a year, projected to go to 1.7 pounds a year by 2035.

Governments and NGOs are embracing it with investments. The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit is ‘reimagining meat production which is building a world where alternative proteins are the default choice.” In addition, the USDA gave $10 million to Tufts University to develop cultivated meat. The USDA has also given $2.7 million for five alternative protein projects. The National Science Foundation gave $3.5 million to UCLA for their cultivated meat program. The Netherlands announced $65 million for cultivated meat and precision fermentation. Given that Mark Post, one of the originators of cell-based meat is in the Netherlands, this is no surprise.

Another hairy audacious goal

Getting rid of animals entirely? It is one thing to have the technology, it is another thing to change consumer behavior. It will be challenging to ask billions of people to fundamentally change their dietary patterns and habits that consumers know and enjoy. Will alternative protein burgers and steaks still sizzle on the grill for the summer barbeques?

Alternative meat companies – and the financial supporters – are enthusiastically promoting new meat technologies. Patrick Brown of Impossible Foods has said that their mission is to replace the use of animals as food by 2035. ReThink, a think tank, also predicts the demise of the farm animal. Their premise is that by 2030, precision fermentation and production called ‘food as software’ will supersede the animal production system of today.

Max Rye, co-founder of cell-based protein company TurtleTree, told McKinsey that cell based meat can save 78 to 96 percent of GHG compared to traditional agriculture.

Andre Menezes, co-founder of Singapore-based, Next Gen Foods, added: “we don’t have time to wait; we are in a late-stage extinction crisis.”

So what does the consumer say?

We turned to Mintel, a consumer research company for the answer. In Europe, the U.K. and the U.S., many have incorporated plant-based meat into their diet but they still eat animal and bird based protein. For those who choose alternative proteins, they eat according to their values.

“The next five years is a pivotal time for the category. In the shifting socioeconomic environment, the challenge is to meet consumers’ multifaceted value expectations.”

– Dasha Shor, Global Food Analyst at Mintel

The environmental and personal health concerns bring consumers closer to the lab. According to YouGov surveys, 48% of consumers eat meatless meat about once a month and do so because they think it is healthier for them and better for the environment.

According to Mintel, consumers are worried about sustainability and 70% of US consumers agree that food/drink companies/brands can be leaders in protecting the environment.

In addition, Mintel continues to stress that consumers need to feel that they get value for their protein. As inflation rises, alternative protein has to beat animal protein on the price. For instance, Alpha Foods is promoting their plant based Chik’n Nuggets as less expensive than regular chicken to draw people to their category.

But having said all that, 52% of Americans have never tried it.

How does this scale?

This won’t be a simple light switch change as technologies, infrastructure, and supplies must match current production. To create proteins from air, or chickens that don’t live in a hen house, or meat made in a fermentation tank will take years to scale.

Mintel analysts went on to stress the importance of innovation: “meat alternatives will be challenged to deliver not only on health, taste, and price but also attract consumers with hyper-convenient offerings beyond burgers and sausages.” Fermentation technology, and eventually cellular agriculture, will be important solutions to addressing meat alternatives’ taste and texture challenges and meeting the protein needs of the growing global population.

The size of the global protein business is massive. In 2018, the world ate 69 billion chickens and turkeys, and 304 million cattle and pigs. As consumers around the world increase their income they naturally eat more protein. In 2020, that was about 467 million metric tons of animal protein. That would be about 93 pounds per human on earth. In the United States, we have held steady for the past three years eating about 225 pounds of protein per person, per year. That is a lot of protein!

What does the future hold? Both!

Today’s consumers, regardless of their age, are not ‘either/or’ on their protein. Consumers are still excited to eat animal protein as well as look forward to including plant or alternative proteins in their diets. Initial innovation and acceptance will mostly be in Asia-Pacific. This is no surprise due to their high population growth and need for food security.

Will the animals that feed us today become obsolete in eight to 13 years? Probably not. But will technology keep improving and the ability to scale become easier? It is in the human DNA to keep improving and striving forward. We have come a long way from cooking brontosaurus burgers over the fire.

Should MCT Oil be in your diet?

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MCT oil was brought to the forefront when Dave Asprey, an American entrepreneur and author, gave “Bulletproof coffee” the popular bullseye. Years ago, hiking in Tibet, he found himself consistently exhausted until a local energized him with a creamy cup of yak butter tea.

Fast forward to much research, Bulletproof Coffee was created in its likeness with MCT oil to help provide immediate energy to give a steady source of energy throughout the day. Those following the ketogenic diet are likely familiar with MCT oil. With its rapid gain in popularity comes a jump in research — here’s what you need to know!

Claims and myths: What does the science say?


Claim #1: MCTs provide steady energy and mental clarity

As people age, brain glucose metabolism deteriorates. Since ketones can serve as an alternative fuel to glucose in brain tissues, a small subset of studies have shown that MCTs may raise plasma ketone levels, which benefit cognitive function.

While studies are still preliminary, there is early proof that ketones, or the byproduct of MCTs, can make up for a lack of glucose uptake, which naturally occurs in the brain during the aging process. This makes MCTs an area of interest surrounding treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.


Claim #2: MCTs increase performance and weight loss

When exercising, lactate levels can rise. This lactate buildup can increase the acidity of muscle cells, disrupting metabolites. Metabolites facilitate the breakdown of glucose into energy, which can affect performance. Studies have found that MCTs can help to lower lactate levels. According to one clinical trial out of Oxford Brookes University:

“These results indicate that the ingestion of MCT-containing food may suppress the utilization of carbohydrates for energy production because of increased utilization of fatty acids for generating energy…

In conclusion, our data suggest that short-term ingestion of food containing a small amount of MCT suppresses the increase in blood lactate concentration…and extends the duration of subsequent high-intensity exercise at levels higher than those achieved by ingestion of LCT-containing food.”

MCTs can help regulate our bodies’ harmful type of fat, called “white fat” or adipose fat tissue. This oil naturally has about 10% fewer calories than other common oils like olive, avocado, and nut. Also, because of its shorter fatty acid chain makeup, MCT helps increase fat oxidation, which is associated with loss of adipose fat tissue and a decrease in inflammatory markers. Lastly, MCTs have also been shown to satiate hunger which has ultimately reduced food intake, contributing to weight loss.


Claim #3: MCTs fight infections

One of many impressive facts about MCT oils is that they act as natural antibiotics. Due to their chemical structure, MCTs are drawn and easily absorbed into most bacteria and viruses. When they enter the virus through the lipid membrane, they weaken it, eventually breaking it open to cause cell death. That is when the white blood cells quickly dispose of the remains.

Furthermore, capric and caprylic acid are two of the most active antimicrobial fatty acids. They are naturally the most potent yeast-fighting substances, and as research shows, they are one of the most beneficial antimicrobials you can take without a doctor’s prescription. Supplementary MCT oil is best taken in doses of 15 to 20 mL per meal, up to 100 mL per day.


Claim #4: MCTs improve gut health and digestion

The ingestion of easily digestible fatty acids like MCT oils leads to increased movement in your digestive tract, thus promoting regular bowel movements. Additionally, MCTs help to improve the gut lining, a critical component of your gut’s microbiome.  It aids in increasing the permeability of the lining, which can facilitate an increase in metabolic functions.


Claim #5: MCTs can help with hormone balance

MCTs work to provide a balance of adipose fat tissue. The dreaded “white fat” negatively affects hormone regulation, as can adipose fat levels when they’re too low. (Normal levels for women are between 3 and 8 percent, while for men, it is between 8 and 12 percent). To better understand our white fat stores, speak with your doctor, who will calculate your body mass index (BMI) and other markers and tests to estimate your levels. 

MCT oil can help with this! Because it can provide necessary fats to produce a balanced amount of fatty tissue, it also has been shown to increase the release of both peptide YY and leptin specifically—this contributes to a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, aiding people in avoiding overeating, and helping to limit too much fat tissue accumulation.

Busting MCT Myths

While the above five claims have scientific legitimacy, here are some notable myths.


Myth: MCT oil only comes from virgin coconut oil.

Truth: Nearly all MCT oil comes from refined coconut oil and sometimes palm oil. The process of retrieving the MCTs requires refinement, bleaching, and deodorizing. All of which are safe processes and fine for ingestion.


Myth: MCT oil is sustainable.

Truth: Yes and No. MCT oil only uses about 15% of the coconut’s oil, and not all of the residual 85% is used in other products. And while most MCT oils are derived from coconut oil, about 34% of MCT comes from palm, which has deforestation implications. However, sustainable ways to harvest palm exist, and not all palm harvesting contributes to deforestation.


Myth: MCT oil does not need to be counted as part of your fat intake due to its benefits.

Truth: MCT oil can increase the amount of fat in your liver if not accounted for as part of your daily fat intake. Be sure to keep your total fat consumption per day between 44 and 77 grams of fat (which respect for a 2,000-calorie diet).

How is MCT made?

MCT, or Medium-chain triglycerides, is a compound made of fatty acids and fat molecules with between six and 12 carbon molecules. Alternatively, fats derived from animals and plants primarily comprise long-chain fatty acids (LCTs), which contain more than twelve carbon molecules.

But what do the molecules have to do with it? The health claims surrounding MCT oils are that they can help burn fat, boost metabolism, promote weight loss, and provide increased energy. These claims have everything to do with how MCT oils are processed in the body.

Medium-chain triglycerides behave differently in the body compared to LCTs. They are more easily absorbed in the body, as they do not require pancreatic enzymes or bile to be digested, unlike LCT. Instead, they are transported directly to the liver, which can immediately be used as energy.

MCT oil is typically derived from coconut and palm oils. It is then refined in a lab using a process called fractionation. This process extracts the medium-chain triglycerides and other fats. Once isolated, a chemical process called lipase esterification uses lipase enzymes to produce the final product.

While coconut is the primary source of commercially-produced MCT oil, MCTs are also naturally found in some full-fat dairy products, like cheese (7.3% MCT by volume), butter (6.8%), and milk (6.9%) and yogurt (6.6%).

MCT Oil Types

There are four identified types of MCT with various purposes and efficacy:

  • Caproic Acid (C6): Commonly referred to as C6 due to its 6-atom carbon backbone, is the shortest medium-chain triglyceride. This type of MCT is the rarest form of fatty acid, making up just a mere 1% of MCTs in coconut oil. That said, it is also the quickest to be converted into ketones. (Ketones are an acid released from the liver to your bloodstream that is used as fuel to drive the body’s metabolism and support muscle function.) Typically, you won’t find this fatty acid in MCT oils for direct consumer use as it has an unpleasant taste. However it is often used in cosmetics.
  • Caprylic Acid (C8): This fatty acid accounts for about 12% of MCTs in coconut oil and is the primary supplement component, as it has a neutral taste and is very efficiently metabolized.  This is a highly beneficial fatty acid, so much so that it is present in the breast milk of most mammals like humans and goats. Fun fact: the Latin word for goat is ‘capra’, the root of caprylic acid.

  • Capric Acid (C10): Making up around 9% of the MCTs derived from coconut, capric acid is also easily absorbed during the digestion process, though not as efficient as C6 or C8. It has been shown to boost immune system function and support healthy and efficient digestion. Bulletproof coffee uses this type of MCT in its keto products.
  • Lauric Acid (C12): This is the primary MCT found in coconut. While it is the slowest to metabolize, it contains the most potent antimicrobial properties—making it suitable for use in natural health products. With its higher smoke point, this MCT can be the most easily substituted for oils in cooking from being the longest of the MCT oils at 12 atoms.

How can I use MCT oil?

MCT oil comes in many forms, including oil, supplements, and powders.

You can use it for baking or frying, in smoothies or soups, or just as a topping to your favorite veggies.

I have tried Bulletproof Coffee and Sports Research MCT oil in my smoothies and have enjoyed both.

There are currently many varieties on the market, including organic versions, cold-pressed, flavored, flavorless…the list goes on.

There is a type out there for every preference.


How is Salt Made?

Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a household without a salt shaker, but this wasn’t always the case. Salt was scarce until the industrial revolution provided the technology to discover vast salt reserves. Salt was once used as a currency as valuable as gold – traded and fought over worldwide.

For millennia, salt represented wealth. Caribbean salt merchants stockpiled it in the basements of their homes. The Chinese, the Romans, the French, the Venetians, the Habsburgs, and numerous other governments taxed it to raise money for wars.”

Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky

Salt’s wide applications

Salt is used in thousands of ways all around the world. It is a jack of all trades that can enhance the flavor of foods in your kitchen and assist in manufacturing paper, plastics, and fertilizers. Its preservative and antimicrobial effects are significant in the food processing industry, and it has a vital role in feeding animals and plants.

The U.S. and China dominate world salt production, accounting for 40% of the 250 million tons of salt produced yearly. Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Utah made 92% of the salt in the United States in 2019. In fact, Detroit sits on one of the largest salt deposits in the world, and most of the salt used for de-icing our roadways is mined from an ancient seabed near Cleveland, 2,000 feet below Lake Erie.

Salt production methods

Whether salt is mined from ancient sea beds under the city of Detroit, the Appalachian Mountains, or the Himalayan Mountains; extracted from salt domes along the Louisiana coastline, or solar evaporated from the Atlantic or Pacific oceans – all salt comes from the sea!

But what happens next? It depends on the application and location:

  • Deep-Shaft Mining: Like mining for any other mineral, salt exists as deposits in underground ancient sea beds, typically miles long and thousands of feet deep. Most “rock salt” (used to de-ice highways and walkways) is produced this way. Take a look at this video.
  • Solution Mining: Wells, similar to oil and gas wells, are set up over salt deposits, and fresh water is injected to dissolve the salt. The brine is then pumped out and taken to a plant for evaporation.
  • Solar Evaporation: The oldest salt production method in warmer climates, salt is first captured in shallow ponds, where the wind and sun evaporate the water. The salt is then harvested either by hand or by machine.

Watch the below video that demonstrates harvesting evaporated salt in California.


Does alcohol stop us from burning fat?

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Whether scientists and researchers like it or not, TikTok has become a hub for diet and health-related information. Nutrition tips and fitness recommendations are shared every day, reaching millions of people in mere hours. The problem is that misinformation is disseminated hourly in catchy, bite-sized clips, causing mass consumer confusion and, at times, dietary hysteria. There is even a term, ‘TikTok Brain,’ where our attention span wanes after 90 seconds, leaving little to no time to cite sources of information…if any.

The latest viral claim — that alcohol stops the fat-burning process for up to 36 hours after drinking — has everyone worried about their “summer bodies” and health goals. Will this drink make me gain weight? Will the food I eat today be digested if I drink? While we are not saying—drink drink drink—we are saying, be careful what you read on the internet!

The good news? D2D is here to debunk these claims. Scientific studies are pointing in a different direction from this misleading headline. The bad news is that our bodies do see alcohol as a toxin, so we do want to be mindful of how much and how frequently we drink. Think of the questions your doctor asks you when you pay them your annual visit—“And how many drinks on average do you consume a week?”

Let’s start with how alcohol is broken down in the body to get a better understanding of this.

How does our body break down alcohol?

Fitness and nutrition influencers and the like consider alcohol the “fourth macronutrient” because it has no carbs, protein, or fat, but it contains ethanol, which our bodies can use for energy. This is why some of us may feel more social or energetic after a drink or two.

Alcohol is metabolized in the liver in two stages. During the first stage, the liver turns the ethanol, which we get directly from the alcohol, into acetaldehyde. What is acetaldehyde? Think of it as the bad part of alcohol that gives us all the negative side effects we experience during the dreaded hangover, like headaches, nausea, and an increased heart rate. This is because acetaldehyde is relatively toxic to the body.

Acetaldehyde is also carcinogenic because it can damage our DNA and stop the body from repairing itself. When DNA is damaged and can’t be repaired, a rogue cell can start growing too much and could eventually create a cancerous tumor. However, we don’t have to worry too much about this because stage two of metabolization lessens this risk.

This second step occurs in the liver enzyme of our mitochondria. During stage two of alcohol metabolization, the body works to get rid of the toxin acetaldehyde. It does this by turning it into acetic acid, otherwise known as acetate. Acetate is a less active byproduct that turns into carbon dioxide and water, which is when the body can easily get rid of it.

Since our body recognizes alcohol as a toxin, it’s going to do everything it can to get rid or metabolize the alcohol first. This means that any other calories consumed, sugar in the drinks, food eaten, etc., is put on hold to be metabolized until after the alcohol is gone.

While this isn’t an issue because we need calories, it’s when our hunger cues diminish during drinking and too many extra calories are consumed that fat build-up can occur. But try not to worry too much; one night of this won’t cause any long-term change. Making it into a habit, however, may lead to some weight gain.

Is the 36-hour claim true?

Now that we know how alcohol is broken down in the body, do we stop burning fat for up to 36 hours after drinking alcohol of any kind and any amount? Nope! Though your body works hard to metabolize and diminish the toxin that the body identified in alcohol, it doesn’t mean that all other bodily processes are stopped.

Currently, there are no peer-reviewed studies to back the claim that the body doesn’t burn any fat for up to 36 hours after drinking alcohol.

In fact, many studies show no positive correlation between normal alcohol consumption and weight gain.

A study by two Canadian researchers in 2015 specifically looked to see if there was any association between alcohol consumption and weight gain. They found that both light and moderate drinking do not lead to weight gain. They found that people who drink moderately frequently may even lead a healthier lifestyle than those who don’t. However, frequent heavy drinking can lead to some weight gain but mostly mitigates weight loss.

So, what counts as light or moderate drinking, and what counts as heavy drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, defines heavy drinking in men as more than four drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women, heavy drinking is more than three drinks in a day or more than seven drinks per week. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than four drinks a day for men and three for women, and a maximum of 14 drinks a week for men and 7 for women. Light drinking is anything less than this.

Alcohol in Men vs Women

Other studies from the National Library of Medicine from 2018 and 2020 looked at how alcohol affects weight loss in both men and women. Both found that heavy drinking may mitigate weight loss but did not lead to weight gain and that this is especially true for people with diabetes or who are obese. Weight gain only occurred when hunger cues diminished and people engaged in overeating while drinking. Since the body is focused on getting rid of the toxin, these extra calories from overeating sit in the body and may become fat if they are not used for energy.

It’s important to remember that it’s not what you sometimes do that matters; it’s what you do most of the time. Everything is in moderation. If you have one night of more than your typical amount of drinking and maybe indulge in too much pizza, you may feel bloated and inflamed the next day, but you won’t gain permanent weight. If you make a habit of this and do it every weekend or several nights a week, then you will experience some effects.

Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?

If the toxin acetaldehyde is what’s causing the negative effects of alcohol (headaches, nausea, etc.), is there anything we can do to speed up the metabolization process so we don’t feel the effects? In fact, there are multiple products on the market right now that do just that.

Though most acetaldehyde turns into acetate, some acetaldehyde doesn’t make it to the liver and sits in the gut instead. The gut isn’t able to process all of it into acetate, so it builds up in the gut giving us those dreaded hangover symptoms the following day.

Zbiotics is a supplement that you take before you start drinking. It’s a genetically-engineered probiotic bacteria that produces the same type of enzyme in the liver that’s used to process alcohol, but in the gut. This way, it can help break down more of the acetaldehyde so that you don’t experience the dreaded hangover in the morning.

The technique Zbiotics uses is called homologous recombination. The team at Zbiotics designed a piece of DNA that has the enzyme to break down the acetaldehyde encoded in it, but it also has stretches of DNA that are identical to what’s on the bacteria’s chromosome. This makes the bacteria do a kind of “find and swap” in the body — finding identical chromosomes in our bodies and swapping the enzyme that are needed in our gut.

Other companies with similar products include Cheers Health, NAC, and Over EZ. All of these products can be purchased online and range between $35-100 for a 12-dose pack. However, there are other ways you can avoid the negative effects of alcohol naturally.

As an aside, at Dirt to Dinner, we believe in responsibly drinking so you don’t need to use these products. And, of course talk to your Dr. if you do decide to take them.

How to Avoid the Effects of Overdrinking

The best things overall that you can do to mitigate the negative effects of alcohol and keep your body healthy are:

  • Opt for drinks that have fewer calories and less sugar, like hard seltzers, light beer, and red wine. This way, you can enjoy the alcohol without having the worry about all of the extra calories. For example, a Corona Premier has 90 calories and only 2 grams of sugar, while a margarita has 274 calories and 36 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving. Now, we all love the occasional margarita but try to consume them in moderation.
  • Drink lots of water! This one seems obvious, but some people forget that staying hydrated is the most efficient way to flush out any alcohol in your system. If you plan on drinking, be sure to drink lots of water before so you are hydrated going in, drink water between each alcoholic beverage, and drink water before going to bed.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep. Sleep is also one of the best resets for the body. By getting proper sleep, your body will wake up refreshed and with less chance of a hangover.
  • Exercise! Exercise is also a great natural detox for your body that keeps your metabolism moving at a steady pace.