Why We Shouldn't Rely on Cron-O-Meter
By Don Bennett, DAS
Here's an excerpt from my latest book, What can do you the most harm is What You Know That Isnt So
Cron-O-Meter / Fitday.com says I'm getting enough magnesium
But what are their datasets based on? Did you ever wonder? Let's look at the two things that these services use to come to their conclusions.
First, they look at what you told them you're eating. They look at the individual foods, and at the amounts, and look up in their databases to see how much of the various nutrients are in what you ate. But how accurate are those databases? It would be one thing if you put pieces of the foods you were actually eating into a device connected to your computer so Cron-O-Meter could know how much magnesium was actually in what you were eating, but this is not what happens. Instead the software must rely on tables of data. But did you ever wonder how closely those tables represent the nutritional content of the foods you are eating? Turns out, many times they are not even in the ballpark.
There has been research done when samples of a particular crop were gathered from various farms all across the U.S. (and the world), and their nutrient content was assayed. Two things struck me when I saw this data: the same variety of grape grown using the same farming method (conventionally grown and organically grown) from different locations often had widely varying amounts of a particular nutrient, and when I say 'widely' I mean there were some big differences.
So did the people who made up those tables that Cron-O-Meter relies on for its nutritional data utilize the lowest amounts found? Or did they take an average of all the samples? I don't know, do you? But they couldn't have used the lowest numbers because if they did, no matter how much food you ate, you wouldn't be able to get enough magnesium for example. And to take an average of all crops grown wouldn't result in a chart that everyone could rely on, yet the people who use these programs take the results as the Gospel truth.
This is how much you need?
Now let's look at the other thing that Cron-O-Meter and Fitday.com use to come to their conclusions. Even if you supplied them with actual samples of what you ate so they could test them to see exactly how much of the various nutrients were in the foods you were eating, what are they basing their results on as far as you getting or not getting enough of a particular nutrient? Ever wonder about this? If these programs use the U.S. Recommended Daily Intake (RDI), this would be reason enough to not rely on these programs for an assessment of your nutrient intake. Tell me, who says, for example, that the RDI of 150 micrograms of iodine per day is what the human body requires for optimal functioning? I'd like to meet the researchers who came up with this one, because I could share with them some information that would cause them to revisit their recommendation. But because many of the RDIs are "politically" motivated, it probably wouldn't matter what evidence or proof I offered up; the RDI for iodine would remain at a level that would just prevent the deepest of iodine deficiencies but not iodine insufficiencies. And when you factor in all the flawed research and loaded studies that those RDIs are based on, you begin to see why it might not be a good idea to hang your hat on them.
So when you combine the above two items together, you'll see why using programs such as Cron-O-Meter and Fitday.com are not likely to give you results that square with reality.
Now, you might be tempted to say, "But it's the best thing we have". Is it? Or might a better approach to nutrition be to use those other tools in your toolbox, like logic, (un)common sense, and some independent, critical thinking on the matter.
Here are the tenets of the approach I take...
1. Based on what is known about how the foods we eat are grown, I assume that the foods I am eating will not supply enough of all the nutrients my body requires for optimal future health, instead of assuming they will. This is an important first step. (And this position is backed up by plenty of empirical evidence.)
2. Figure out what I need to augment my diet with to (hopefully) ensure I will get what my body requires for optimal health. This should include testing for those nutrients that have worthwhile tests, especially the "problematic" nutrients like D, B12, and iodine.
3. Have no philosophies that can interfere with numbers one and two.
4. Apply to the issue critical thinking and independent rational thought uncolored by anyone's biases. (This is the reason to be aware of popular but incorrect notions such as, "Once you start eating enough fruits and vegetables you don't have to worry about nutrition" courtesy of a popular raw vegan educator.)
5. While doing all this, pay attention to all the other
equally important requirements of robust health (appropriate amounts of
exercise, sunshine for D and the other sunshine-provided nutrients, B12,
hydration, stress management, sleep, etc)... it is physiologically impossible
to be as healthy as your DNA will allow unless you do this. And keep in
mind that you will get less nutrition overall if you are not as active
as your body is designed to be (because you will be eating less food than
you would if you were appropriately active, and less food = less nutrients
True, it's way easier to use Cron-O-Meter, but if your goal is to make sure you're getting enough of all the nutrients your body requires for the best health it can provide you with, I'd use the best way even if it wasn't the easiest.
Bottom line: Cron-O-Meter is great for showing you your weekly average ratio of carbs-to-fat-to-protein which can be informative, and it does a decent job of calculating how many calories worth of fuel you took in on average for the week (if you manually factor out that the calories of fat and protein are not used for fuel when eating a fruit and greens low fat diet), but personally, I wouldn't rely on it to tell you how you're doing in the nutrition department.