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Why Synthetic Food Is Very Dangerous
De, Joseph Mercola

Do you know what’s in the food you eat? Remarkable as it may seem, 99% of the components making up whole food are a complete mystery. As reported by New Scientist in July 2020:1

“We know next to nothing about the vast majority of compounds in our diet … ‘Our understanding of how diet affects health is limited to 150 key nutritional components,’2 says Albert-László Barabási at Harvard Medical School, who coined the term nutritional dark matter.

‘But these represent only a small fraction of the biochemicals present in our food’ … The idea that food is a rich and complex mix of biochemicals is hardly news.

Even the well-known macronutrients — proteins, carbohydrates and fats — are hugely diverse. There’s also a vast supporting cast of micronutrients: minerals, vitamins and other biochemicals, many of which are only present in minuscule quantities, but which can still have profound health effects.”

The official source of nutritional information is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.3 It lists the composition of hundreds of thousands of foods, but it’s not as detailed as you might imagine.

In all, it details only 188 nutritional components, including 38 flavonoids, yet scientists estimate there are more than 26,000 different biochemicals in our food.4,5

As noted by New Scientist,6 “with the USDA as your guide, 99.5% of the components in food are a mystery,” and as noted by Barabási, “It would be foolish to dismiss 99.5% of the compounds we eat as unimportant7 … We will not really understand how we get sick if we don’t solve this puzzle.”8

Searching for Nutritional ‘Dark Matter’

Disturbed by the information gap, an international team of researchers started working on a more comprehensive database a decade ago called FooDB,9 which as of 2020 contained information on some 70,000 nutritional compounds.

Yet even this database still has a long way to go. An estimated 85% of the nutritional components listed remain unquantified, meaning they know a food contains a particular component, but they don’t know how much. The health implications of most compounds also remain largely unknown. New Scientist notes:10

“This is also true of individual micronutrients. ‘Consider beta-carotene,’ says Barabási. ‘It tends to be positively associated with heart disease, according to epidemiological studies, but studies adding beta-carotene to the diet do not show health benefits.

One potential reason is that beta-carotene never comes alone in plants; about 400 molecules are always present with it. So epidemiology may be detecting the health implications of some other molecule.’

Another probable cause is the effect of the microbiome on dark nutrients, says [FooDB founder David] Wishart. ‘Most dark nutrients are chemically transformed by your gut bacteria.

That’s probably why studies on the benefits of different foods give relatively ambiguous results. We don’t properly control for the variation in gut microflora, or our innate metabolism, which means different people get different doses of metabolites from their food.’”

Processed Foods Are an Even Greater Mystery

The reason I started with that background is because we know even less about the constituents of processed foods and synthetic foods that ignorantly claim to be “equivalents” to whole foods, such as “animal-free meats” or “animal-free milk.”

Food processing alone will often alter the composition of bioactive molecules in a food, and hence the food’s impact on health,11 but today, processed foods also contain a wide array of synthetic chemicals that, prior to the modern era, were never part of the human diet. As such, they pose incredible risks to long term health and well-being. Processed foods may also have intergenerational effects.

How can scientists create equivalence when they don’t even know what 85% or more of the whole food they’re trying to replicate consists of?

In recent years, the idea that we can simply replace whole foods with synthetic, genetically modified or lab-grown alternatives that are wholly equivalent to the original food has taken root. In reality, that’s simply impossible.

How can scientists create equivalence when they don’t even know what 85% or more of the whole food they’re trying to replicate consists of? Common sense will tell you they can’t. It might look, smell and even taste similar, but the micronutrient composition will be entirely different, and as a result, the health effects will be incomparable as well.

Animal-Free Equivalence Is a PR Fraud

Take cultured meat, for example. It’s said to be equivalent to real animal meat because it’s grown from animal cells. The cells are then grown in a nutrient solution inside a bioreactor until it becomes a meat-like slab.

Similarly, Bored Cow12 animal-free milk is a dairy alternative made with whey protein obtained through a fermentation process, plant-based fats (in lieu of milk fats), citrus fiber (for creaminess) and added vitamins and minerals.

Defenders of cultured meat insist that this product is not “fake meat” but “actual meat,”13 the only difference being that no animal had to be slaughtered to create it. Cultured meat and other synthetic foods are also said to be more environmentally friendly. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Their impact is far more akin to that of the pharmaceutical industry than the food industry. According to a recent “cradle-to-gate life cycle” analysis,14,15,16,17 the lab-grown meat industry produces anywhere from four to 25 times more CO2 than traditional animal husbandry.

Based on this assessment, each kilo of cultured meat produces anywhere from 542 pounds (246 kilos) to 3,325 pounds (1,508 kg) of carbon dioxide emissions, making the climate impact of cultured meat four to 25 times greater than that of conventional beef. And this information is only provided to refute those who believe the global warming fallacy.

As noted by the authors, investors have poured billions of dollars into animal cell-based meat (ACBM) sector based on the theory that cultured meat is more environmentally friendly than beef. But according to these researchers, that hype is based on flawed analyses of carbon emissions.

Cultured meat is also the epitome of ultraprocessed food18 and therefore likely to cause health problems like those caused by other ultraprocessed foods, such as obesity,19 cardiovascular diseases, Type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer,20 mental health problems21 and increased all-cause mortality.22,23,24,25,26

A paper27 published in the April 2023 issue of Animal Frontiers also warned that there are several implications of cell-based meat that need to be considered, but aren’t, including the fact that cultured products are not nutritionally equivalent to the meats they’re intended to replace.

The claim that no animals are killed in the process is also false. At present, most cultured or cell-based meats are created by growing animal cells in a solution of fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is made from the blood of unborn calves. In short, pregnant cows are slaughtered to drain the unborn fetus of its blood.

Is It Safe to Eat Tumors?

There are also many unanswered questions surrounding safety. For example, to get the cell cultures to grow, some companies are using immortalized cells, which technically speaking are precancerous and/or fully cancerous.28 (Other companies use embryonic stem cells or cells from living animals.29)

The reason for using immortalized cells is because normally behaving cells cannot divide forever. Most cells will only multiply a few dozen times before they become senescent (old) and die.

This won’t work when your intention is to grow thousands of pounds of tissue from a small number of cells, hence they use immortalized cells that have no off switch for their replication and can divide indefinitely.

Meat substitutes cultured in this way could therefore be thought of as tumors, seeing how the flesh is entirely made up of precancerous or cancerous cells. Is it safe to eat tumors? We don’t know.

MIT biologist Robert Weinberg, Ph.D., has proposed that humans can’t get cancer from these cells because they’re not human cells and therefore cannot replicate inside your body.30 However, there’s no long-term research to back this theory.

Dietary Headaches to Come

It’s also important to realize that the nutritional composition and safety of synthetic foods will vary depending on the brand.


Dr. Mercola has always been passionate about helping preserve and enhance the health of the global community. As a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), he takes a “whole-person” approach to wellness, helping you develop attitudes and lifestyles that can help you Take Control of Your Health.

By sharing valuable knowledge about holistic medicine, regenerative practices and informed consent principles, he has become the most trusted source for natural health information, with a legacy of promoting sustainability and transparency.


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