Using a Refractometer to Measure Nutrition in Food
"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
"Organic gardening food seems to be the answer to the cancer problem." -Max Gerson, M.D.
"Hand refractometers are handy measuring instruments with which anyone can measure the concentration of an aqueous solution. Plant juices offer a concentration of the dissolved solids, sugars, and amino acids. Brix readings can define the probability of yield limitations, and high brix readings in effect confer immunity to fungus, bacteria and insect attack." - Dan Skow, D.V.M. Mainline Farming for Century 21
Page two of our three page mini-series on agriculture to prevent cancer. This page discusses the use of an instrument called "refractometer" to measure the nutritional content of food. This device is a wonderful aid to both consumers and farmers. Consumers can use the refractometer to maximize the nutritional content of the food they purchase. Farmers can use the refractometer to grow healthier crops that resist insects and disease, thereby making the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture unnecessary.
Doctors have long known that depletion of minerals in the soil results in less nutrition in food, and that this undermines the health of the entire community. The relationship between soil quality and good health is explored in detail in an article from alive Magazine (see Better Farms) which is a reprint from Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1936.
Farmers know that their soils have been depleted of minerals. The problem is that consumers have had no way to measure the nutritional content of food and so there has been no market demand for more nutritious produce.
Now we have the refractometer, a simple instrument to measure the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables. It works on the principle of light bending when it passes from air into water. Due to dissolved sugars, minerals and other nutrients in fruit and vegetable juices, they are denser than water and bend light more. The amount light bends is measured in degrees "Brix". There are values of degrees Brix for each fruit and vegetable ranging from poor to excellent. The excellent level generally gives the plant immunity to disease and insects, and creates health in animals and people. These plants also have increased frost resistance, and improved storability because they will dehydrate rather than rot.
The use of a refractometer is explained by Arden B. Andersen his book Life & Energy in Agriculture in the chapter on "Quality Produce". You may obtain the book from Acres U.S.A. Phone 1-800-355-5313 for a list of their publications.
Refractometers are available from laboratory supply companies. If not available locally, you may obtain one from Pike Agri-Lab Supplies (1-207-684-5131). Pike also sells a customized set of Vise Grips to squeeze the juice from fruits and vegetables (highly recommended).
Every farmer, wholesaler, retailer and consumer interested in the quality of food needs a refractometer. What consumer would not be willing to pay a little more for food with two or four times as much nutritional value? The smart consumer will demand an "excellent" Brix reading and farmers will be rewarded for quality as well as quantity.
Agro-chemical companies do not want you to know about the refractometer. Use of a refractometer leads to organic farming, because a high Brix level in plants creates increased resistance to disease and pests, reducing the need for pesticides and other chemicals. Also, the most effective means to increase Brix readings is to add nutrients such as trace minerals and humus to the soil. Soil with high humus content has a structure which holds moisture, helping plants through drought, resisting erosion, and reducing run-off after storms and in the spring. Unlike chemical agriculture which destroys soil, organic farming has as its basis the care and nourishing of the soil. By demanding excellent Brix readings, consumers will establish both sustainable agriculture and superior health.
According to Dr. David Suzuki, global food production has declined every year since 1984. Dr. Suzuki attributes this decline to the loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil annually caused by poor farming methods. The soil is blown away by the wind or washed into rivers, becoming useless silt in the ocean. Silt in a river such as the Mississippi becomes so mixed with toxic industrial waste that it cannot be returned to farmlands even if dredged. Topsoil is a heritage each generation passes to the next, and without topsoil civilization as we know it cannot continue. It is time to make preservation and improvement of topsoil a priority for our collective health now and to provide a basis for future generations to feed themselves.
Only by growing your own food can you be certain that your food is top quality. Every rooftop, balcony, window ledge and lawn can be a garden. Gardens can be arranged vertically as well as horizontally. Indoor gardens can grow all year round. Unsprouted seeds contain enzyme inhibitors, so grains and beans are more nutritious if sprouted. Sprouting is indoor gardening that you can do in your own kitchen. All plants around the home should perform multiple duties including provision of food, decoration, air purification, aroma therapy, humidity, shade, wind breaks, snow fence, privacy, fuel, compost, etc. Every city should be a "city of gardens".
Refractometer readings indicate that produce sold in grocery stores generally has 25% to 50% of the nutrients it ought to have. This suggests that even if you eat all the fruits and vegetables you are supposed to eat, your body will be starved for many nutrients. If you are eating this food, a good nutritional supplement is not optional.
A bat will eat its own weight of insects each night.
A bird can eat 6,000 insects in a day.
America the Poisoned:
"It is not good to mix poison with food. Regardless of the arguments on the other side, it is not good to mix poison with food." - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
The pesticide dieldrin is one of the most potent carcinogens known. It is found in the flesh of 99.5% of the American people.
Dioxin, an ingredient of Agent Orange, is the most toxic chemical known to mankind, causing cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and death. The pesticide 2,4,5,-T contains dioxin. Millions of pounds of this pesticide have been sprayed on US farmlands.
Hexachlorophene contains trace amounts of dioxin. Until recently hexachlorophene was an ingredient in baby powder, talcum powder, and in hospitals newborn babies were bathed in it. Hexachlorophene has also been used in many consumer products such as mouthwashes, antiperspirant deodorants, hand soaps, etc.
The pesticide heptachlor is carcinogenic at less than one part per million. Millions of pounds of this pesticide are sold annually. Do you use heptachlor in your garden?
The pesticide polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) is a carcinogen capable of crossing the placental barrier. 96% of nursing mothers in Michigan were found to have PBB in their milk.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's) cause birth defects and cancer at concentrations of just a few parts per billion. PCB's have been found in 100% of sperm samples tested. Over a million tons of PCB's have been produced in the US. Is it a coincidence that testicular cancer has increased 50% in the past 20 years?
The pesticide kepone causes cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders.
In factory farms, animals are dipped in or sprayed with toxaphene to kill parasites. Toxaphene causes cancer, birth defects, and dissolves bones.
Dichlorvos is a chemical that damages the human nervous system. Dichlorvos is the active ingredient in many "larvicides" that are routinely mixed into animal feeds on dairy farms and factory farms to kill flies that attempt to breed in the manure from these animals. This manure is highly toxic. What of the flesh and milk of these animals?
The US uses more than a billion pounds of pesticides annually, more than any other nation in the world.
Chlorinated hydrocarbons such as DDT, kepone, dieldrin, heptachlor, PCB's, and toxaphene are biologically stable, fat soluble, carcinogenic and deadly poisons. They persist in the environment for centuries, building up in the soil and ground water, appearing in food grown on that soil.
Does it really make sense to use chemicals that persist in the environment for hundreds and even thousands of years to achieve the temporary "benefit" of killing insects for a few days or weeks in a farmer's field?
Dioxin and other toxic chemicals damage the immune system.
Most birth defects are not visible at birth.
Pesticides lose their effectiveness in the same way as antibiotics. Insects resistant to the pesticide tend to pass this resistance on to the new generation.
267 species of insects harmful to agriculture have built up marked resistance to pesticides.
From 1945 to 1989 pesticide use in the US increased 10 fold, yet during that period crop losses from insect damage actually increased from 7 to 13 percent.
In the American diet, 95% to 99% of toxic chemical residues come from meat, fish, eggs and dairy. The higher you go in the food chain, the greater the concentration of toxic chemicals.
"I have found that several cloudy days in a row will cause the brix readings in the leaves to drop from 17 to 18 brix in the leaf to below 12 brix in two to three days. The lower the humus content of a soil, the faster the brix readings will drop after several cloudy and rainy days. Once the readings in the leaf drop below 12, insects move in and have a field day." - Dan Skow, D.V.M.
"Insects always come to the weak spots first." - Everett Dietrick, Entomologist
"The invisible deficiencies, the ones that can't even be seen, are still in the business of hurting yields. We call this 'hidden hunger' in a crop. Several micronutrients can affect crop yields in this way." - Neal Kinsey, Hands-On Agronomy
"Faulty fertilization, either a shortfall or a marked imbalance of fertility, will invite bacterial, insect and fungal attack. Instead of a one-way ticket to a better crop, simplistic N, P and K fertility management merely becomes an insurance policy for the sale of lots of toxic rescue chemistry." - Neal Kinsey
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) uses natural insect controls such as:
"The quality of the plant starts with the seed. Traditional hybrids selected for and grown primarily with nitrogen and potash, anhydrous ammonia and potassium chloride must have a similar fertilizer program in order to grow as expected...If you put this narrow spectrum, hybrid type of seed on a balanced living soil, neither the soil nor the plant would fare well." - Arden Andersen, Science in Agriculture, The Professional's Edge
Seed Savers Exchange (SSE)
The following information is from Pike AgriLab Supplies, Inc., RR2 Box 710, Strong, Maine 04983 Phone 207-684-5131, Fax 207-684-5133
REFRACTIVE INDEX OF CROP JUICES - CALIBRATED IN % SUCROSE OR DEGREES BRIX
Refractometers are easy to use, even for inexperienced operators. To make a reading, place 2 to 3 drops of the liquid sample on the prism surface, close cover & point toward any light source. Focus the eyepiece by turning to the right or left. Locate the point on the graduated scale where the light & dark fields meet. Read the % sucrose (solids content) on the scale. The chart represents values for juices of mature crops.
For reference, pure (distilled) water has a reading of "0" degrees Brix.
Within a given species of plant, the crop with a higher refractive index will have a higher sugar content, higher mineral content, higher protein content and a greater specific gravity or density. This adds up to a sweeter tasting, more minerally nutritious food (maximum nutritional value) with a lower nitrate and water content and better storage characteristics.
Crops with higher refractive index will produce more alcohol from fermented sugars and be more resistant to insects, thus resulting in decreased insecticide usage. For resistance to insects, maintain a Brix of 12 or higher in the juice of the leaves of any plant. Crops with a higher sugar content will have a lower freezing point & therefore be less prone to frost damage.
Soil fertility needs may also be established from this reading. Highest readings will be obtained where soil nutrients are in best balance & are made available by microbes upon demand by the plant.
Measuring the Quality of Fruits and Vegetables with the Refractometer
The following information is from the book The Anatomy of Life and Energy in Agriculture, Arden B. Andersen, Acres USA, Kansas City, Missouri, 1989, pages 84-93.
Have you ever purchased what looked like good quality fresh vegetables, put them in your refrigerator only to throw them in the garbage three days later because they had spoiled? Have you purchased fresh vegetables or fruits and discovered that several weeks later they were only slightly dehydrated yet perfectly good to eat? High quality produce, in the true sense of the word, will not rot. It will simply dehydrate with age. For some, this is a very difficult statement to acknowledge, since the majority of the produce in this county does rot if consumed a few days after purchase. We are told that the quality of produce can be verified by its looks (apples are coated with wax so they shine, lettuce is coated with sulfide so it remains green, meat is treated with nitrates so it remains red) and the lack of visual signs of insects and diseases. Little is said about the spectrum of rescue chemicals applied to produce the false visual perfection. The culprit here is the myth that insect and disease infestation is indiscriminate as to crop quality. Conventional agricultural scientists contend that crops, weeds, insects, and diseases are all competitive. In a balanced biological system this could not be further from the truth.
Weeds grow where the soil is balanced for them rather than for the cultivated crops. Insects and disease infect those plants that are of such poor quality that they aren't fit for higher life forms to eat. Unfortunately, modern agriculture has opted to ignore this is basic biological law and flood the market with produce of false quality.
How can you determine, then, the true quality of produce? You need a method or tool, and then a standard with which to make comparisons. Currently the refractometer is the most practical tool that the average person can use to evaluate produce quality.
The refractometer is a tool which measures the refractive index of a liquid. When light rays shine through the liquid they strike the carbohydrate, salt and other molecules depending upon the type of calibration used. When the light rays strike the molecules, they bend or refract. The greater the calibrated molecular concentration of the liquid in question, the greater the refraction.
Refractometers are used extensively in industry and research fields for measuring the concentration of all kinds of aqueous solutions, such as pharmaceuticals, tissue fluids in plants, and urine and blood protein. It is also used for checking the concentration of medicines, cosmetics, battery solutions, antifreeze, and processing solutions for plating, and quenching oils.
The food processing industry uses the refractometer extensively for measuring the sugar concentration of soft drinks, juices, colas, nectars, and lactic acid beverages. The device is also used for checking flavoring solutions of canned foods, sugar concentration of jams, marmalades, honeys, syrups, extracts, concentrates, and other sweet liquids. Refractometers are used in the brewing and wine-making industry as well.
The refractometers to use for quality control in crop field production should be calibrated from 0 to 30 or 32 brix, to measure sucrose. The irony here is that the use of refractometers has been known and practiced by industry for decades, and yet if you were to inquire at the local cooperative extension service about using a refractometer for monitoring crop quality and selecting various feeds and fertilizers, you would get something between a blank stare and arrogant dismissal of your question. In certain parts of the country refractometers are used by farmers to check the ripening stage of fruit and the sugar content of fruits and grapes, but for various reasons very few farmers have adopted the extensive use of these instruments for improving the crop quality, not just measuring its status. Even fewer users of the device have noticed and correlated its readings to insect and disease infestations, mineral content, shelf life, crop vigor, palatability, and chemical contamination.
Checking produce with a refractometer is quite simple and can be done in a matter of minutes.
First, check the refractometer's calibration. This is done by placing a drop or two of distilled water on the glass prism. Close the plate and look through the eyepiece. Focus, if possible, so that a clear distinction can be seen between the white field of view and the colored, usually blue, field. The distinct edge between the two colors is where the value on the scale is read. It should be at zero for distilled water. Adjust the calibration screw accordingly.
It is not imperative that you carry around distilled water just to calibrate the refractometer each time you use it, unless you plan to compare the readings with readings taken after calibration. In other words , if you are selecting produce from a farm market and plan to purchase the best of three samples, the actual reading can be plus or minus several points due to calibration error and still give accurate comparative information because all three sample tests would have the same error. You should simply purchase the produce with the highest reading between the three.
To test the produce, place one or two drops of juice on the glass prism, close the plate and look through the eye piece. It may be necessary to point the refractometer toward a light so the field of view is more distinct.
As a broad generalization, produce over 12 brix is considered good because crops above this value are usually not bothered by insects or diseases, so the produce will be fit for human and animal consumption according to the law of natural selection. Also if an item reads greater than 12, and if the distinction be between the two colors in the field of view is unclear and difficult to pinpoint, it is an indication that this relatively high in calcium, a desirable condition.
It is possible, though not very common, to get a relatively high brix reading with the refractometer and not have a premium quality item. Probably the most common occurrence of this is when sweet corn ready for harvest has a high brix reading in the ear though it is infested with corn ear worms. If you monitor this corn for the entire season, you will see that the brix reading is low and only at the end of the season does the plant translocate as much sugar as it can to the ear, thus raising the ear brix reading. However, since the brix reading was low throughout the growing season, the plant was nutritionally deficient and despite the last minute translocation of sugar to the ear, the mineral did not accompany this sugar. This phenomenon has been bred into many crops in an attempt to get the frosting without the cake, so to speak. The insects are not fooled at all. Another time when brix readings may be high without really indicating a high mineral content is in a dehydrated condition such as a drought. If the produce rots or requires rescue chemicals to protect it from pests, then it is not really minerally enriched.
Evaluating produce with a refractometer is an enlightening experience. Cosmetic visual signs often crumble in the wake of real evaluation. As you practice at it, you will learn to discern cosmetic signs and signs of true natural quality. And parents will notice that fruits and vegetables shunned by fussy eaters are suddenly popular when the brix readings fall into the good to excellent range.
The refractometer has virtually unlimited uses. The key to its value is keeping records and references. Record when and where a very poor or exceptionally good item is obtained, what it looks and tastes like, how it stores and cooks, and how it satisfies your hunger.
The refractometer can be used for fertilizer selection, large or small scale food evaluation (even milk), food processing, and a variety of other uses. Use it whenever and wherever the occasion arises.
The refractometer is only a tool. It must be used to be of any value, and the values you obtain from the instrument are only as good as their application. When it is used to compile trivial information, that will be its value. But when it is used as a tool to select the most nutritious produce to eat, then its value is priceless because good health is priceless, especially once it has escaped us.
Discussion of a tool is futile unless you are able to obtain one, so here are the names of three brands I am familiar with: Atago Model N1, American Optical, and Extech. There are many others of equal quality and comparable price. Plan to spend between $100 and $175 for a refractometer that should last indefinitely with proper care. If you are unable to locate a refractometer in your area, one can be purchased from Pike Lab Supplies, RFD #2, Box 92, Strong, Maine, 04983, (207) 684-5131, or TransNational Agronomy, 450 Market Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49503, (616) 456-6878. I am not associated, but simply provide the contacts for the reader's convenience. I wish you successful shopping and improved health as a result.
In addition to refractometer readings, there are visual characteristics you can look for when selecting produce. Pears, for example should be squarish rather than conical in shape. Oranges should have a five star caylix on the blossom end. Citrus should have thin skins. Potatoes should not have sunken eyes. Corn should not dent at maturity. Again, the most important aspect of produce quality is that the produce should not spoil or rot. Purchase items that are the heaviest per unit volume. Your scrutiny will be rewarded by more nutrition per dollar spent.
Within a given species of plant, the crop with the higher refractive index will have a higher sugar content, higher mineral content, higher protein content, and a greater specific gravity or density. This adds up to a sweeter tasting, more minerally nutritious food with a lower nitrate and water content and better storage characteristics. It will produce more alcohol from fermented sugars and be more resistant to insects, thus resulting in a decreased insecticide usage. Crops with a high sugar will have a lower freezing point, and therefore be less prone to frost damage. Soil fertility needs may also be ascertained from this reading.
Andersen, Arden B., Science In Agriculture - The Professional's Edge, Acres U.S.A., Kansas City, Missouri, 1992.
Andersen, Arden B., The Anatomy of Life and Energy in Agriculture, Acres USA, Kansas City, Missouri, 1989.
Kinsey, Neal, Charles Walters, Hands-On Agronomy, Acres U.S.A., Metairie, Louisiana, 1995.
Marinelli, Janet, ed., Natural Insect Control, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 1994.
Simone, Charles B, Robert A. Good, Cancer and Nutrition : A Ten-Point Plan to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Cancer (Simone Health Series), Avery Publishing Group, 1992.
Skow, D.V.M., Dan, and Charles Walters Jr., Mainline Farming for Century 21, Acres U.S.A., Metarie, Louisiana, 1995.
Walters, Charles, and C. J. Fenzau, EcoFarm : An Acres U.S.A. Primer, Acres U.S.A., Kansas City, Missouri, 1996.
Charles Walters, Weeds, Control Without Poisons, Acres U.S.A., Metarie, Louisiana, 1996.
Farmers wishing to make the switch from unsustainable chemical agriculture to sustainable eco-agriculture can start by subscribing to this newspaper: Acres USA - A Voice for Eco-Agriculture, P.O. Box 91299, Austin, TX 78709 telephone (515) 892-4400 fax (515) 892-4448 www.acresusa.com. Acres USA hosts periodic conferences on Eco-Agriculture which include seminars on various aspects of sustainable agriculture. Acres USA also has a mail order catalog of books on all aspects of sustainable agriculture.
Better Food, Part 3 of 3
We now move on to page three of our three page mini-series on agriculture to prevent cancer.
This is amazing. By improving the mineral and humus content of the soil, plants and trees have increased resistance to frost, drought, disease and insects, better storage characteristics, plus they are more nutritious! Unfortunately, modern farming is more like mining because nutrients removed from the soil in the harvest are not returned. Is there anything we can do to help farmers grow better food?
Yes, there is. For one reason or another, much of the nutritional value of food we eat is not absorbed by our body. Much of the goodness of the food is discarded down the drain each time we flush. To maintain the fertility of the soil so that it can grow mineral rich food to make healthy people we need to close the loop and return nutrients to the soil. This can be accomplished with composting toilets.
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