You Are, What You Eat!

So, few people are aware of the importance of the quality of the foods they consume. Whether it’s buying organic produce, grass-fed or pasture raised beef, eggs that come from free-range hens, or avoiding added and unnecessary ingredients. All of these factors are overlooked by the average person and even by many nutritionists and dietitians in their importance to our health. Most people grocery shop for groceries like they get their gas, searching for the cheapest eggs, meat, produce, and so on that they can find. I wonder, if these people considered that within hours whatever they put in their mouth is replacing cells everywhere in their bodies, would they be in such a rush to buy the cheapest foods available? Would you? It’s no joke and it’s to be taken very literally when I say that you are, what you eat!1

Organic Vs. Conventional Farming Methods

Organic Produce & Products Regulations

Organic foods are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals such as fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, and food additives. Organic produce cannot come from genetically modified seeds. Organic foods are better for your health, and they’re produced in ways that support a healthy environment. Before achieving Organic Certification in the US, farmland must be free of any prohibited chemicals for a number of years, often three or more.2 This three year period is essential because it gives microorganism time to digest and eliminate chemical residues that may be left in the soil from previous exposure. But be aware, farmers operating during this three-year grace period can label their food as “organically grown,” while there may still be pesticides or other chemicals in their soils, so it is best to purchase “certified organic” products.

Organic Meat Regulations

For organic meats, coming from livestock, the animals must be raised on certified organic land meeting all of the organic crop production standards. Fed 100 percent certified organic feed, except for trace minerals and vitamins used to meet the animal’s nutrient requirements. Managed without the use of antibiotics, added growth hormones, mammalian or avian byproducts, or other prohibited feed ingredients (urea, manure, arsenic compounds, etc.)3 Organic farmers must also keep detailed written production and sales records, maintain strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products, and undergo periodic on-site inspections. As you can see, gaining the USDA organic certification is no easy task and explains the small increase in price.

Why Are Organic Foods Healthier For Us Than Commercially Farmed Products?

Primary Nutrients

It comes down primarily to the difference in nutrient value. The media often reports that there is no significant difference in the nutrient value of organic foods when compared against conventionally grown produce. This is essentially impossible if you consider what organic farming entails. Dr. Virginia Worthington, a nutritionist who holds a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University reviewed 1,230 published comparisons between organically grown and conventionally grown crops. The results of her survey showed that organic crops had higher nutrient levels or lower levels of toxicity in 56% of the comparisons.4 Many researchers still claim that conventionally grown crops are at least equal in quality, if not better, and have studies to back this up. But, these studies must be closely scrutinized, just as all studies should. The British Soil Association analyzed 109 studies on organic and conventionally grown foods.5 They determined that only 27 of the studies were valid comparisons, almost all of which found

Secondary Nutrients

Other than the primary nutrients such as water, fiber, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals another factor to consider is an organic substances (food) secondary nutrients. There are some 5,000 – 10,000, secondary compounds found in plants and most likely even more that haven’t been identified yet. These compounds are often referred to as “secondary metabolites” and/or “phytonutrients,” for this article I would like to refer to them as secondary nutrients. These secondary nutrients are generally grouped into four categories:organic foods to be significantly better. Also important is the fact that in many of the other studies the organic produce was flown in and was much older than the locally grown conventional groups, therefore decreasing its nutritional value – as a result of time.

  1. Phenolics
    • Aromatic compounds that include the flavonoids, the largest group of phenolics. Flavonoids can be subclassified into different groups that include potentially important compounds including isoflavonoids, flavones, flavonols, anthocyanins, tannins, and lignin.
  2. Terpenes
    • Include the carotenoids (lutein, lycopene), steroids, and limonoids
  3. Alkaloids
    • A diverse group of nitrogen containing secondary compounds, synthesised primarily from amino acids which include toxic and psychoactive plant compounds such as nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, morphine, strychnine and atropine; as well as the glycoalkaloids – solanin and chaconine.
  4. Sulphur containing compounds
    • Includes the glucosinolates (found in cabbage, kale, broccoli); allicin and other compounds from garlic and onions.

Just How Important Are These Secondary Nutrients?

While these secondary compounds have not been classified as, or known to be, essential for health, there is a growing wealth of information suggesting numerous health benefits. The British soil Association’s “Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health5” report alone cities 57 references (studies, sources, research, etc.) supporting both increased levels of secondary nutrients in organic produce and their beneficial effects. Research from Copenhagen University suggests that organic foods may help prevent cancer. The organic foods were found to contain high levels of phenolic compounds (phenolics), which are a potent group of antioxidants. According to the researchers, phenolic compounds are ten times more efficient at neutralizing cancer-causing free radicals in the body than other antioxidants like vitamins C and E.6  The beneficial effects of secondary nutrients is nowhere near being completely understood and I have a feeling they won’t ever be. I’d also like to point out that not all secondary compounds in plants are beneficial to our health. Many are known to be harmful in very high doses, and a few, such as linamarin in cassava and solanin in potatoes, are potentially harmful in regularly occurring concentrations.  But, I believe most of the secondary nutrients found in plants are incredibly important to our health, in ways that we will probably never truly understand.

  1. http://embor.embopress.org/content/embor/9/5/413.full.pdf
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_certification
  3. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20Livestock%20Requirements.pdf
  4. http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/worthington-organic.pdf
  5. https://www.soilassociation.org/media/4920/policy_report_2001_organic_farming_food_quality_human_health.pdf
  6. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/581922/EPRS_STU(2016)581922_EN.pdf

Fact of the Week

The animal production industry commonly supplements livestock feed with sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics trying to prevent bacterial infections and, importantly, to promote growth of the animals.7,8,9

This constant antimicrobial exposure results in the selection of antibiotic-resistant microbes (both pathogenic and commensal) within the animals. Humans are then exposed to these antibiotic-resistant microbes through direct animal contact, contact with soil and water contaminated with animal waste, and the consumption or handling of food products. This transfer of antibiotic-resistant microbes to humans has great consequences to health as many of the antibiotics or classes of antibiotics are also used to treat clinical infections in humans, making certain infectious diseases difficult to cure.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/srep09253.pdf