Healthy food choices have benefits beyond your health.
A healthy lifestyle isn’t only about you, it involves choices that benefit the planet too. The more healthy food you
choose, the cleaner the growth and production of that food. That translates to cleaner air, cleaner earth and cleaner water. When you think of the word “refinery” what do you think of? An oil refinery, right? Well guess what… refined foods can be just as bad for you and for the planet.
Processed and refined or whole and organic?
I love this image. It really does say it all. When was it decided that healthy eating had to be such a challenge?
I’m not one to follow the paleo diet. I don’t think it’s bad, mind you. In fact, it has a whole lot of good qualities. I just don’t personally believe we need to go back to over 10,000 years ago to correct our current unsustainable and unhealthy mass food market. About 100 years will be more than enough.
For the maximum benefit to yourself and to the planet, you have to make your healthy food choices match the time before industrialized farming, before GMOs, before confined animal feeding operations, before Madison Ave told us our rice should be white and be done cooking in 5 minutes and before High Fructose Corn Syrup (just to name a few “food” blasphemies.
Let’s start by looking at America’s favorite food… beef.
Unfortunately, unless you’re really careful about the sourcing of every food item you purchase, the scene below is how it looks when your beef was produced. Horrible, isn’t it? It’s like a steer concentration camp. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. Doesn’t look like a good source for healthy food, does it?
And it should come as no surprise that the beef that is raised in a way that looks healthy to the earth is also better for healthy eating. According to a Nutrition Journal review from Jan ‘10, the nutritional profiles of grass-fed vs grain-fed beef are very different with the grass-fed beef having greater benefits for your health.
For example, a healthy ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids in the human diet should be around 4:1. Grain-fed beef averages 7.65:1 while grass-fed averages 1.53:1. That’s a HUGE difference. The Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is 7 times better in grass-fed.
Another beneficial nutrient that grass-fed beef shows marked benefit over grain fed is beta-carotine:
“Concentrations were 0.45 μg/g and 0.06 μg/g for beef from pasture and grain-fed cattle respectively, demonstrating a 7 fold increase in b-carotene levels for grass-fed beef over the grain-fed contemporaries.”
And the benefits go beyond these two groups of nutrients and always in favor of grass-fed. As far as healthy food choices go, grass fed pastured beef is the only way to go.
And look at those two pictures again. Which one looks like it is better for the planet?
Why eat processed foods when whole foods are more nutritious?
Instead of comparing garbage fast food to healthy food, let’s compare two seemingly identical healthy foods. As you can see from my slow cooker and soup recipes, I eat a lot of beans. They taste good and are an excellent source of protein, minerals and fiber. My choice is almost exclusively to buy beans in bulk, dried and slow cook them. Why is this a good choice?
Let’s start with the price.
Pre-cooked organic pinto beans are sold in 15 oz cans. The cost: $2.25 a can.
2/3 cup dried beans makes the equivalent of (1) 15 oz can. The cost: $1.33 (@ $3.99/lb, 1 lb is 2 dry cups)
So by cost alone, dried beans are about half the price of canned beans.
Let’s look at the nutrition as well.
Looking at an equal comparison by grams, with 1 serving of canned beans being 130 grams, the nutritional values are:
|Canned Beans||Dried Beans|
So as you can see, there nutrition is better across the board for the dried beans. I mean, 140 mg of sodium to 1 mg. That alone is a huge difference. But the dried beans also have 67% more dietary fiber, less than 1/4 of the sugar, nearly twice as much protein, 50% more calcium and the potassium doesn’t even register on the canned beans, while you get 566 grams in the dried beans. That’s a winner by knock-out.
Oh, and you kept your carbon footprint smaller by not having the beans canned, then boxed, then put on a pallet then transported.
Organic vs Conventional vs GMO. Guess which is healthier & which is worse.
In the United States, the certification of foods as organic is the duty of the US Department of Agriculture. To help you know what exactly qualifies as organic and what an organic label means, here is their guide to organic certification. As much as is possible, almost 100% of the time, I buy only organic, especially when it comes to produce. While there is debate as to whether or not organic food has greater nutritional value to conventionally grown food, there is no doubt that it is better for the planet that organic food is grown without pesticides and herbicides. Putting more poisons into the environment gives “healthy food” real meaning. If you have a difficult time switching over to all organic, at least avoid the “Dirty Dozen”.
As to whether or not organic produce actually has greater nutritional value, a great story recently came out in the New York Times describing a junior high schooler’s experiment involving testing fruit flies for the effects of organic vs conventionally grown food. And as they state: “By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.”
Now, GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)… avoid these at all costs. GMO food is a science experiment using humans as guinea pigs. There has been no long term research into the effects of human consumption of GMO produce. Consider this: the largest producer of GMO crops is Monstanto, who’s primary business is not food, but rather pesticides. The number one reason they genetically alter crops is to make them either resistant to their primary product, glyphosate (know as RoundUp) or the crops produce an insecticide internally as they grow. Do either of these sound like healthy food choices? Or do they sound like products intended to sell more glyphosate?
This is a great story about how some genetic researchers are the ones sounding the alarm about the dangers of genetically modified crops. Your only definitive recourse against eating genetically modified food is to always look for the organic label. GMO ingredients are not allowed in foods that are organically certified. If you really care about your health and the well being of the planet, check out the Organic Consumer’s Association and subscribe to their news letters so you can make sure you’ll always have good clean sources of healthy food.
Before you eat your next grain-fed fast food hamburger, they also feed cattle (who are natural herbivores) the rendered carcasses of euthanized house pets. Oh, and chicken manure & feathers.
You might just want to look for that “grass-fed” label.