Why whole food quality is not created equal
By Mary Beth McCue
The differences between conventional farming and organic farming lies in the quality and nutritional value, the impact of the environment and the health affects of everything on our planet.
Organic, sustainable foods are whole foods rich in nutrients and devoid of toxic pesticides, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and genetically modified organisms (GMO). The quality of the seeds, the soil and the final product far exceed that of conventional farming.
Sustainable agriculture refers to methods of farming that enables the farm to produce food indefinitely without causing irreversible damage to ecosystem health. It does not deplete the soil of nutrients, but rather continues to fortify them. This helps ensure the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In conventional farming, the ecological balance of the land is damaged.
The factors below describe some significant traits of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) and conventionally farmed foods.
Nutritional deficiencies have become a global issue. We are becoming more and more aware that eating common whole foods devoid of nutrients can result in many forms of “nutrient depletions” in the body. Sub-clinical symptoms can be fatigue, sore muscles and painful joints, digestion complications, memory loss, mood disorders, headaches, food cravings and imbalances in the metabolic and detoxification systems, just to name a few.
The quality of our food starts with the quality of the seed and the soil. Organic seeds are resistant to pests and disease the way nature intended them. Their seeds are often larger than that of non-organic, and they produce plants that root deeper into the soil and are hardier with leaves that spread quickly, which helps avoid weeds.
The quality of the soil also has a great influence on the growth of the seed and the nutrient content when the plant is harvested. Organic farming strongly relies on the natural breakdown of organic matter, using techniques like green manure and composting to replace nutrients taken from the soil by previous crops.
In a study published in the April 2001 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, it was noted that there was higher vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates in organics than in conventional crops. In addition, there were lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops. There are further studies citing evidence on nutrient variations in support of organics on the Organic Trade Association site at www.ota.com.
Toxins are found in our food, air and water supplies. Over 100,000 chemicals are currently in use and 1,000-2,000 new ones are being developed each year. While it is impossible to avoid them, it is easy to decrease the use and exposure by choosing a more “toxic-free” life-style. Most conventional produce and conventionally-raised animals have toxic residues from chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs used during their lifespan. Eating these foods causes enormous strain on the detoxification (the liver) and intestinal system of the body. The toxic ‘wear’ eventually leads to a breakdown of the metabolic and immune response system’s leaving the body vulnerable to many chronic conditions and disease. Visit the site: www.foodnews.org for the pesticide load list of over 40 fruits and vegetables.
Transportation of conventionally grown food has a median travel distance of 1,500 miles; not including the transportation of imported foods. It is estimated that for every one calorie of food consumed, there was 10 calories of fossil fuel energy used. These fuel emissions have a strong negative impact on the greenhouse gases, resulting in atmospheric change. Food that is trucked to the supermarket takes on average of 3 to 7 days from “farm to plate”. The food is picked “green”, meaning that it has not reached its maturity, nor its’ highest potential nutritional value. The food is then treated with chemicals to hasten its ripening.
Knowing where your food comes from by purchasing from a local organic farm is one of the best ways to ensure you know what you are getting. Not only is the food safe, ripe and nutritious, but also abundant in taste. Eating a diet of organic, sustainable foods will help the body obtain optimal health by constantly nourishing, supporting and “renewing” it.
Supporting your local community by joining a Community Supported Agriculture (C.S.A.) farm or using the local farmers markets are great ways to start. For a CSA near you, visit www.localharvest.org/csa. Other sources include: www.agmkt.state.ny.us/HarvestCalendar.html; www.localharvest.org/csa.jsp; www.lohas.com.
Mary Beth McCue is an Integrative Dietitian, a Certified NYS Nutritionist, and certified in Functional Medicine and has been in the business since 1985. She currently sees clients at The Roosevelt Baths & Spa in Saratoga and has a national (phone) client base. For more information visit www.sipn.info/mccue.htm or contact SaratogaNutrition@earthlink.net or 257.6530.