I’ve got great news.
It turns out that you’re wired to figure out the nutritional content of your food with your keen senses of smell, sight, taste, and even sound. Minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals are some of nature’s most colorful molecules. Blood is red because of the iron in hemoglobin, apples are red because of anthocyanins, and green vegetables are green because of magnesium, just to name a few. You don’t need to send these foods to the lab to know how rich they are in these minerals – you can look at them. The greener the lettuce, the more magnesium. The redder the meat, the more iron. When meat spoils, it turns brown because the iron has reacted with oxygen. The iron is still there, but we know that the meat is “aging” and that just as the iron is oxidizing, the antioxidants like glutathione in the meat are also oxidizing. If you take steak, sear it, and cut it open, you’ll notice that the outside is crispy and brown, while the inside remains red and pink. The meat has oxidized on the outside, but not the inside. The iron can be absorbed from either the oxidized exterior or the pink interior but nutrients sensitive to heat will have been broken down the closer they are to the heat. These are just a few examples of how we can visually figure out if a food has high levels of nutrients. I will go over this in more detail with regard to each nutrient.
While individual foods vary drastically with regards to their nutritional content, whole foods tend to have a healthy balance of nutrients and, when combined with other common foods, usually provide a nutritionally balanced diet. This is another reason to look for whole foods when shopping. It is often easy to see if a food is whole or heavily processed without having to read the label.