Would you be surprised to find out that your organic fruits and veggies are often grown using pesticides?
🤔So that begs the question – if both organic and conventional produce have pesticides, does it really matter what I buy?
🤷♀️ Yes, but also no…sometimes.
While both forms of farming utilize pesticides, organic farmers will utilize other forms of pest protection (like insect traps or predator insects) prior to resorting to pesticides. Prevention is the focus and pesticides/herbicides are used as a last resort, when preventative strategies aren’t working. Most pesticides used in organic farming are “natural” meaning that they are extracted from a natural source, like plants or other living organisms. This means that, in general, pesticides used in organic farming are less toxic than their conventional (synthetic) counterparts.
☠️The less toxins we expose ourselves to the better! When you take in toxins, your body shifts into damage control mode and expends precious energy and nutrients trying to clear those toxins out.
🛒💰That being said, buying solely organic produce isn’t always possible (or affordable!). There are ways to find balance:
1️⃣Utilize the EWG Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen Lists
These lists determine which produce is likely to be highest in pesticides (Dirty Dozen) and should be bought organic and which fruits and veggies are lower in pesticides (Clean Fifteen), making the choice between organic and conventional less important.
If you go through mountains of spinach and heaps of cucumbers in a week, spend your organic budget on these foods. For foods you eat less frequently, conventional may be ok.
3️⃣Practice Food Safety
Wash those fruits and veg under running water, clean the edible peels of potatoes, carrots, apples etc. with a brush and scrub inedible peels to reduce pesticide residue that can enter food when cut. Discard outer leaves of foods like cabbage.
4️⃣Variety Is Key
Different crops require different pesticides, so eating a varied diet not only provides a wider array of nutrients, but minimizes the risk of overloading on a particular toxin.
5️⃣Get To Know Your Farmer
If you are lucky enough to have Farmers’ Markets near you, introduce yourself to the producers. Ask questions about their product and farming practices.
‼️Most importantly! Don’t stress over it! If you can afford organic – GREAT! If not, remember that what is most important is eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, regardless of their source.
The Environmental Working Group says:
❝The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables.❞
Do you buy only organic, solely conventional or a balance between the two?
Eggs are undoubtedly one of my favourite foods. They are quick and easy to prepare, super versatile and pretty darn cost effective too! But head into any grocery store and you’ll be confronted with the “WALL OF EGGS”. Natural, cage free, free range, pasture raised – suddenly the simple egg got a lot more complicated! Are the 5.99/dozen eggs really better for me than the 3.99/dozen brand? What’s the difference between cage free and free range? Let’s “crack” the code on this once and for all!
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
If the wide variety of terms on those cartons has got you confused, use the list I’ve created below to identify which terms have clout and which are just marketing fluff.
Regular (No Special Label)
Eggs without any other qualifying label on them are generally laid by hens fed a conventional, vegetarian diet. The hens are often caged or kept indoors without access to natural light or the outdoors. As they are kept in close quarters, they may also be debeaked to prevent them from pecking each other.
These are purely marketing terms meant to trick the purchaser into thinking they are buying a superior product. There is no certification or verification needed to use these terms. Hens are likely fed and raised in the same conditions as those producing “regular” eggs.
Sounds great, but here is another term that has no regulation. These eggs can come from large industrial facilities and caged hens.
Finally, a label with meaning! To use the “Free Range” label, producers must prove that the hens have been allowed access to the outdoors for at least 51% of their lives. BUT – and it’s a big but…there is no regulation regarding either the type or size of outdoor space. They could have access to dirt, a cement covered patio or pasture. As there is no regulation with regards to the size of the outdoor space, overcrowding is not uncommon and de-beaking is permitted.
No Antibiotics Added
This is another sneaky label. Producers are not allowed to sell eggs from hens treated with antibiotics and must wait a specified period of time after treatment is complete before they can sell the hen’s wares. In short, ALL eggs are antibiotic free.
Organic eggs are laid by hens who are fed organic feed (free of pesticides and chemicals). There is no regulation as to how they are housed or the amount of outdoor access they have and, again, de-beaking is allowed.
Hens are fed a vegetarian diet higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. This is often accomplished by adding flax seed to the diet. Again, there is no regulation as far as housing of the hens.
Hens are raised without cages, but this does not mean they have access to the outdoors. Often they are kept in large warehouses and in crowded conditions. Beak trimming is permitted.
Well, for starters, chickens are omnivores. Their natural diet would include protein from insects and worms, along with nutrients found in grasses. Vegetarian feed contains no animal products and would derive it’s protein from vegetarian sources, like soybeans. So really, a solely vegetarian diet is not a chicken’s natural diet.
This term implies that the hens are allowed full access to the outdoors to meander around the pastures are able to forage around for those bugs and grubs that are part of their natural diet. This isn’t a legal or regulated definition, so you want to do your homework to ensure the producer’s claim of pasture raised is accurate! Some companies, like Vital Farms, print the name of the farm where the eggs were produced on their cartons. You can go to their website and search for the farm to see the chickens in their pasture. Another great way to do ensure you are getting what you paid for is to get your eggs directly from the farmer!
Budget is always going to be a factor when we are filling our grocery cart, but how the animals are raised and fed should also hold some weight. In my next post in the series, I’ll discuss a couple of eggy myths and misconceptions before I dive into my final post on whether or not eggs are a valuable part of a nutrient dense, whole foods diet (spoiler alert…heck yes they are!).
Dessy, M. (2017). The Pantry Principle.Versadia Press
Food Labels Exposed [Booklet]. (2018). N.P.:A Greener World
There’s something you should know about me… I’m a bibliophile, a bookworm, an avid reader. Whatever you want to call it, there is nothing I love more than immersing myself in a good book – especially when the sunny Pacific Northwest summer days turn to day after day of drizzle. Now, I’m no snob when it comes to my reading material – give me a mystery, a biography, an old classic or a science laden textbook – heck, even the back of a shampoo bottle – and I’m a happy camper. So I’ve decided I should use at least some of the hours I spend with my nose buried in a book as fodder for this blog and share my thoughts on some of my favourite, and maybe not so favourite, health and nutrition related tomes.
First, a Favourite….
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma – A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan confronts the seemingly simple questions of “What should we eat?” and “Where does my food come from?”. By tracking four meals back through the food chain, Pollan discovers that the choices we make when it comes to our food reach far beyond merely deciding meat or vegetable, low fat or high fat. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is less about choosing from the variety of foods we COULD eat and more about determining what we SHOULD eat, as these choices not only affect our health, but have political, ethical, environmental and financial consequences as well.
Throughout the book, Pollan takes us through the sourcing of meals supplied by three different food chains, the industrial, the organic (both industrial and pastoral) and the hunter gatherer. Tracing these meals back to their roots provides some surprising and disturbing insights related to each of these food systems. Industrialized corn, by being massively overproduced and subsidized by the government, has found it’s way into virtually everything we eat — whether it is the feed used to produce meat, high fructose corn syrup or other additives used in processed foods. The variety we see at the grocery store is really an illusion, as the industrialized food system has turned our society of omnivores into specialized eaters of corn (pg. 117). Ironically, the mountain of corn produced on farms each year cannot support the farmers themselves, either physically (as it must be processed to be eaten) or financially. Today’s monoculture farms are really nothing more than food deserts (pg.34).
The organic food system, through absence of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, is undoubtedly healthier than the basic industrial system. The differences between the two, however, stop there. With mono crops and their need for fertilizers (even if organic) due to soil depletion, the petrochemicals used in shipping and the use of synthetics in food production, organic now resembles industrial more than ever. The industry uses marketing and catch phrases to lull the consumer into believing what they are buying is good for them, the animals and the environment.
Conversely, the pastoral farm system (absolutely my favourite section of the book) relies on a symbiotic relationship between the earth and animal and between different species of animals, as well. It’s a system that recognizes the bio-individuality of the animal and lets them express their innate instincts. This type of sustainable system creates an ecological loop, where waste basically ceases to exist. The environmental and moral benefits of this way of farming are obvious but, as Pollan recounts, not without its own set of issues. There is little support for the sustainable farmer as he has no need for the chemicals, machines and fertilizers sold by the companies that are most likely bankrolling the policy makers. Lack of subsidies and regulations forbidding the slaughter of animals on site all add to the cost of the food produced. As such, sustainable food is seen as something only the moderately wealthy can afford. This is another aspect of the Omnivore’s Dilemma explored in the book – does the money saved by buying government subsidized, mass produced, nutrient poor food offset its cost to our health, environment and ethical well being?
The final meal prepared by the author was one he hunted and gathered himself. Pollan readily admits that this is not a viable way to source all food in today’s world, but in exploring this simplest of food chains he was able to re-establish a connection to and a gratitude for his food that is lacking in most standard food systems. He also explores the idea that America’s lack of culinary traditions (wisdom passed down by our ancestors informing us of what we should eat and how it should be prepared) leaves us prone to confusion and “Omnivore Anxiety” (Pg.300). Without guidelines provided by our culture, we are more apt to follow the advice of so-called experts, the slick words of marketers and sadly, end up with a fad diet not tailored for us, but for the pocket books of big business.
I would implore anyone who eats food to read this book. Whether you eat industrially, organically or sustainably, you should know where your food comes from so you are making educated choices. One reason I chose to review this book is because, as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I advise clients to source food from sustainable producers as much as possible – food that is local, seasonal, nutritionally dense and, in many cases, more expensive than what, on the surface, looks to be the same product sold at the grocery store for less money. Being able to discuss how your food choices affect your health, the environment and even influence the food economy is vital. The observations Michael Pollan makes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma align well with the principles of Nutritional Therapy and delve further in to the question of what we should eat than just looking at what is healthier for the individual. The more we educate ourselves, the less complex the Omnivore’s dilemma becomes. By gathering this knowledge, we empower ourselves to make changes that benefit our wellbeing, the wellbeing of our land and animals and the wellbeing of our food system as a whole. Joel Salatin, the “Godfather” of sustainable farming practices, is quoted in the book as saying, “In nature, health is the default. Most of the time pests and disease are just nature’s way of telling the farmer he’s doing something wrong” (pg.321). Perhaps the same could be said of our human diet. The rise in chronic diseases that we are experiencing could very well be Nature’s way of telling us that what we are eating is wrong.
Pollan, Michael. TheOmnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals. New York : Penguin Press, 2006. Print.
It’s been a minute since I’ve had time to sit down and get some thoughts down on this digital paper! I enjoy writing, but it can take me a LOOOOONG time to figure out how to organize all the thoughts in my head into something that other people might want to read! Summer – especially the delicious, but oh so short, summers we get here in the PNW – was NOT the time to be labouring over a keyboard. Instead, I spent a tonne of time with visiting family, played outside, tended my garden (more on that fiasco later) and even managed a short getaway to camp and enjoy some outdoor concerts! But all good things must come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I love Autumn! The fall colors, the crisp air…the lack of screaming children in the grocery store when I run my errands….blissful. Autumn is also a time to reset and get back to your regularly scheduled programming, if you will. For me, this means I’m getting back to the gym regularly, refocusing on building my business, meal planning and ensuring that the fridge is stocked with nutrient dense, whole foods. (After all the company we’ve had, it also means I should be doing a full house clean – but there are plenty of rainy days in my future for THAT!)
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN SOURCING FOOD (AKA GROCERY SHOPPING)
1. Is it a WHOLE food?
When I talk about stocking up on WHOLE food, I mean just that. Foods in their whole, unadulterated form – packaged just as Mother Nature intended. The food item should BE the ingredient, not be made up of ingredients. She is a smart cookie, that Mother Nature, creating foods that are balanced with the nutrients required for their use in the body! Take fruit, for example, yes it contains sugar in the form of fructose, but it also contains fiber (which can slow the sugar’s absorption) and minerals to aid in its metabolism or use in the body . The same can’t be said for that can of soda!
2. Think Variety
Variety is the spice of life! We want to be eating a broad range of foods. In a Standard American Diet, approximately 60% of calories come from just 3 foods – soy, corn and wheat. Seems unbelievable, but check out this article from the Center for Advanced Medicine for an explanation of how this has occurred. Our bodies need a much more diverse range of nutrients. Try to “eat the rainbow” in the produce section and get as many colours on your plate as possible. More colours equals more nutrients! Think outside the box – organ meat is some of the MOST nutrient dense food out there. It can be daunting to try ingredients that you’ve never used before, but changing it up can make mealtimes a bit more exciting and ensure that you don’t get stuck in a nutrient rut. Challenge yourself to try something new! I won’t judge you if you start with eggplant over beef liver!
3. Think Seasonally
Our ancestors didn’t have access to asparagus for twelve months of the year. Foods were only available for short periods of time. Eating seasonally is a great way to get diversity into your diet and ensure a broad range of nutrients which changes frequently and benefits your health and well being. Eating with the seasons can also prevent overconsumption of foods, which can lead to food sensitivities. Another great reason to eat seasonally is that, generally, the food has not been stored as long and will be more nutrient rich! There are great lists you can find online (like the one I provided below) to help you determine what is “in season”.
4. Think Locally
Sure, if you live in the middle of Canada in December, there isn’t going to be a plethora of fresh, local veg at your market. Local snow cones, however, would NOT be an issue. As much as you can, whenever you can – eat local. Farmers Markets, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes, your own garden (I managed to get a good crop of radishes this year, the rest ended up in the bellies of our neighbourhood wildlife) – food is fresher and more nutrient dense because it was literally JUST harvested and doesn’t travel long distances (therefore there is less risk of contamination and it’s also better environmentally) . Plus it’s also going to be in season (see point #3)! Eating locally also helps support those local farmers who work so hard to provide delicious and nutritious food for us!
Eat local when you can!
5. Think Quality
I get it, organic produce is expensive and, not for nothing, looks pretty much exactly like its cheaper, conventional cousin. So what’s the difference? Although different countries have different regulations around the term “organic”, in the U.S., certified organic means there are annual audits to ensure the following standards are met:
– No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides
– No antibiotics or hormones
– No GMOs
Organic animal products are fed organic feed, but the term alone does not specify if an animal is grass-fed, grain-fed or pasture raised.
There are many benefits to sourcing and eating organic, including limiting your exposure to toxins from pesticides and fertilizers. Beyond just adding to the toxic load your body must deal with, these compounds can be potential carcinogens and/or endocrine disruptors. Interestingly, pesticides, while they may “protect” the produce from insect damage, have also been shown to decrease the amount of phytonutrients or antioxidants the plant produces. Phytonutrients are a plants own natural “bug repellent” and, when doused with chemical pesticides, the plants no longer get chewed on and have less need to create these compounds. This makes the food less nutrient dense for us consumers!
But THE COST!!! My advice? Do what you can with what you have. I’d rather see someone chowing down on conventionally grown carrots than diving into a box of toaster strudels! Follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Lists and choose your organic produce from those that may have the highest pesticide residue. A final tip is to get to know your farmers! Many smaller farms follow all the organic standards, but simply do not have the money to get “certified”. Ask questions. Any farmer worth his salt will be glad to chat with you about their product.
I hope this helps you get stocked up and ready to reset and take on the impending season change with ease and health! It’s always bittersweet to bid farewell to summer, but I’m starting to dream about roasted root veggies, slow braises, soups and stews, pumpkin pie……