Food has become a complicated subject in modern times, and is now associated with political uprising and even causes heated debates among many different groups of people and organizations, including the left and the right political affiliations. Unfortunately, you can be chastised for your beliefs about food, even to the point that your own family might begin to question your sanity. You may even drive away people in your life because they disagree with you about food.
I’ve noticed that when I tell people I eat primarily whole and organic foods, they sometimes look back at me quizzically, as though I am speaking a foreign language. The situation gets stickier when I elaborate about grass-fed meats and raw dairy.
There are some folks who honestly believe I am too particular and certainly a food snob; the reality is, I just want the best food for myself and my family – and I’ve bothered to educate myself about what exactly that means. I find that the average person lacks a basic understanding of what the types of foods available are – and what that ultimately means for health and the environment.
Two-hundred years ago, who would have ever guessed that people would have to start defending their right to eat real, healthy foods that were free of chemicals and toxins – a fact that all of humanity took for granted before the Industrial Revolution took place?
If you are a person who cares about the food you eat and wants healthy choices, you know that finding and purchasing those foods is difficult at best because sources are not plentiful and the price tag is not cheap. Yet somehow our system is backward and is set up to sell unhealthy, toxic food in every place imaginable (grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, variety stores, the Internet!) which sport a lower price tag than real, whole foods which can only be yours for the most astronomical prices which the average person has trouble affording (and are going higher and higher every day).
It’s no longer simple just to go to the market and shop for food. There are many different types of foods and at times it seems as though real, whole foods are a dying breed – which is all too disturbing when you consider the endless variety of processed foods available on the market as compared with real food that has no chemicals or preservatives, and the negative effects posed to health as a result of consumption of processed foods: i.e., the most recent pandemic of Swine Flu. The following information elaborates about the different types of available foods, their definitions, and where those foods come from:
Whole foods are foods from the earth that have not been processed or refined (changed) in some way. Example – whole grains that you buy in bulk from the store are whole foods, cereal and crackers are not.
Whole foods are the foundations of wellness, and have been eaten for thousand and thousands of years by humans. Many modern health problems we have today are as a result of poor nutrition – heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.
- Traditional foods are foods from nature that are eaten the way our ancestors ate them. It wasn’t until the mid 1850’s that people started to process and package foods in mass quantity, so people who are two or three generations behind us ate only traditional foods, and had never seen a package of prepared food in their lives.
- As time went on, food changed more and more until a great deal of what you see in a grocery store is packaged or processed in some way. It’s really only the edges of the grocery store where you will find whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables and fruits, nuts, and meats. Almost everything else is processed in some way.
- Both whole and traditional foods typically come from farms or are harvested or obtained from the wild. Many types of farms produce food, but the best types of farms from which to obtain any food would be from the organic and sustainable varieties, discussed in the sections below.
Local foods are foods that are grown and produced in and around the area where you live.
Local foods are often better for health than foods brought in from miles away. Why? You can find out how your food is grown much easier if the place you are buying it from is nearby – you can visit the farm and talk to the owners/managers about growing and production methods, and if you are purchasing meat you can find out whether animals are raised humanely and fed naturally.
Because local foods travel less distance to get to your table, fewer resources (like gasoline) are used. Local food is generally sustainable. Although not all local food is produced in a healthful manner, it is really important to know about where your food comes from and how it is raised. Many farms and companies produce food that is unhealthy, so if you are able to learn about where and how your food is produced, you can make educated choices about what you eat.
Organic food is grown and produced without the use of chemicals, pesticides, and is not genetically modified. Genetic changes in commercial foods are made by scientists to make the foods easier to grow and keep them from being susceptible to disease and illness, but eating foods that have been modified can be harmful to your health. That’s why organic is better, and studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels of nutrients – vitamins and minerals – that are important for health.
Organic food is grown in a manner that is in keeping with methods friendly both to health and the environment. Farms that want to grow organic foods must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture before they can label their foods as “organic”.
- Processed foods are any food that is not in the condition which it would come from in nature. Most conventionally-grown and raised foods would fall into this category (although some are more processed than others) simply because they have unnatural chemicals, pesticides, and toxins added to them for the purposes of packaging and preservation. Ultimately, processed foods have a longer shelf life which allows the companies producing and distributing them a higher profit margin on those items than if they were not altered in some way. Processing allows storage and consumption of the food for an extended time after it is produced.
Although factory and conventional farms (discussed below) do not produce what most people would traditionally consider to be processed foods, the foods grown and raised in factory farm environments are not healthy foods; therefore they technically fall into the processed category because they are not naturally grown or produced, have a variety of chemicals and toxins added in, and farming methods used to produce food in factory farm environments damage health and the environment – they differ vastly from that produced in most organic and sustainable farm environments.
On the other side of the spectrum, many organic foods are turned into processed foods because companies have tapped into a market of creating organic “convenience” foods which are packaged and processed, and consumers have responded by purchasing these products because they are told by these companies that these foods are healthy to consume, when in fact many of them are no longer healthy, whole foods at all.
As an example, let’s look at packaged “organic” cereals. Those foods are just as processed as their conventional counterparts – they may contain organic ingredients, but those ingredients have undergone changes and are transformed from their former healthy state into extruded, formed chunks of grains that have various substances added to them – sugar, corn, soy, processed dairy, roasted nuts, industrial vegetable oils like cottonseed, canola, or soybean oil, and others.
What remains is a food high in carbohydrate content and probably calories, low in protein, and contains components which cause inflammation and immune system dysfunction in the body such as un-neutralized phytic acid (a compound which inhibits nutrient absorption levels significantly) and a proliferation of Omega 6s. These foods do not usually contain Omega 3s – essential fatty acids which are critical for health, but are grossly out of balance and are responsible for contributing to many degenerative diseases we are plagued with in developed nations.
Factory and Conventional Farms
Many animals that are raised for food for people in the U.S. such as cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, don’t live outdoors. They seldom see the sun, don’t feel grass underneath their feet, or play chase with their friends. They live in pens and cages in huge buildings called “factory farms“. There are no windows in factory farms, so animals raised there have never seen a cloud, a tree or a flower.
All these animals know about the world is how the steel bars of their cages taste, how it feels to lay or stand on concrete floors and wire cages, and how it feels to be locked in a cage so small that they can hardly move. Factory farms are also dirty and crowded, which makes it easy for diseases to spread. Because of unsanitary, crowded conditions which are filled with disease, farmers must administer antibiotics to animals. The antibiotics in meat eaten by people cause our bodies to harbor bacteria that in turn become resistant to medications. Approximately 78 percent of antibiotic use in our country is done in factory farm environments.
When you eat meat, dairy, or eggs from a factory farm environment, you can harm your health because the unnatural conditions of these operations affect the quality of your food – meats, dairy products, and eggs are full of antibiotics, chemicals, hormones, and the animals are given feed that is unnatural for them to consume (grains, corn, soy) – and ultimately, your health.
Factory farms also harm the environment by the methods used for production and farming. Pollution and waste created in the factory farm environment enter our ecosystems – soil, water, and air, and make our world a more toxic place to live.
Sustainable agriculture refers to those farms which produce indefinite amounts of food without incurring irreversible damage to the ecosystem or human health. Focus is on environmental stewardship, farm profitability, and prosperous farming communities. Sustainable farming generally uses farming methods that are friendly to our health, the animal or plant’s health, and the environment – so generally the practices used by farmers include no pesticides or chemicals, no hormones or antibiotics, and nothing that would otherwise unnaturally change the end food product you will be eating.
Sustainable farming generally uses much less or does not use fossil fuels (gas) for transporting and growing and producing fertilizers and pesticides.
Meats, dairy products, and eggs produced from animals and birds that are able to roam about, eat grass and insects and worms are the best for health. These healthy foods contain the correct amounts of protein and fat, and low amounts of carbohydrates for health.
Healthy choices for food:
Grass-fed meats (beef, bison, lamb, pork, venison, elk) and pasture-raised poultry (chicken, turkey), and other meats grown naturally like goose, duck, and game fowl
Eggs from chickens and other birds on pasture
Organic fruits and vegetables, cooked or raw
Sprouted and soaked nuts and seeds
Unpasteurized or raw and fermented dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, kefir) from certified, sustainable farming operations
Traditional fats such as whole butter and other healthy animal fats from sustainable sources like tallow, schmaltz (chicken or goose fat), and lard, expeller-pressed flax seed oil, and extra virgin olive, coconut, and palm oils
True or False?
Dairy products are good sources of calcium.
Pasteurized dairy products – which represent the bulk of what is available to the public – are not healthy sources of calcium because delicate fats and proteins are denatured in the processing and heating up to achieve pasteurization, and thereby render vital nutrients unavailable to the human body. Minerals like calcium and vitamins do not absorb properly in the human digestive tract, can actually cause leeching of nutrients from the bone, and contribute to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis when pasteurized dairy is consumed.
Whole grains can be found in packaged foods.
Not likely. Packaged foods often read “whole grains”, but simply reading the label will reveal whether you are actually getting a whole grain or not. Nine times out of ten the ingredients will reveal that the primary component in what you are getting is some kind of flour. Products made of flour go rancid very quickly, even whole wheat flour, and particularly after a product has sat on the shelf for months at a time (typical time period for a processed food). Most whole grains are found in the bulk section of the food store. These are normally healthy, whole foods. Be aware that you can also find ground up or floured versions of grains in the bulk section. These foods will lose their nutritional value very rapidly and go rancid soon after grinding.
Fruit juice is a healthy choice for a beverage.
Fruit juice is not a good substitute for a whole piece of fruit. Again, fruit juices are mostly a processed by-product of fruit, are almost always pasteurized (which removes vital, living nutrients), and is primarily comprised of sugar. You are better off drinking water and eating a whole piece of fruit.
Meat is unhealthy because it is contains fat and cholesterol.
Meat is a necessary part of the human diet because it contains protein, cholesterol, fat, and calories needed for proper health. Over the last five to six decades, meat has received a bad name due to the fact that most of the meat our population eats is from factory farms – obese meats which are laden with chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, high in calories and fat, and low in protein. All of these factors make meat an unhealthy food to consume. When you eat healthy, grass-fed, sustainably-raised meats in moderation, you will be contributing positively to your health.
Eating fat makes a person fat.
See the above paragraph. Human beings need fat for health, including healthy animal fat. It doesn’t matter whether it is red meat, milk, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, butter, or avocados – all foods that are high in fat and calories – as long as it originates from a healthy environment and is grown properly (organic). Eating unhealthy fats from processed foods (many of which come from factory farms or other unhealthy farming environments) will cause health disorders, particularly because fat is a substance stored by the body.
A food with too many calories is a bad choice.
If you are eating a whole food, it doesn’t matter how many calories you consume. Whole foods from nature are naturally balanced to contain the correct amount of calories necessary for health. Modern culture has become unnaturally obsessed with counting calories – and false beliefs exist that if something is low in calories it is healthy to eat. Think again. Most processed foods are high in calories, and even if they claim not to be, they are most likely high in carbohydrates (again, read labels if you want to know the truth about food), which translates into sugar and calories in the body.
Food that does not contain hydrogenated fats is healthy.
Just because something reads “no trans fats” on the label does not make it healthy. Most of these types of foods are processed. Many foods claiming not to contain trans fats contain other substances that are unhealthy to consume – including vegetable oils such as canola, cottonseed, and soybean. In general, it is best to avoid processed foods.
Low-fat and non fat foods cause weight loss and improve your health.
Most foods that read “low-fat” or “non-fat” are processed, packaged foods. It is best to avoid processed foods as much as possible. A natural, healthy, organic, whole food should not cause health issues in the person consuming it – no matter how high in fat or calories it may be.
For more information on whole, traditional foods, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation.
For more information about sustainable agriculture, visit The Sustainable Table.
5 replies on “How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!”
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[…] Prior to conception, spend six months to a year improving dietary habits and lifestyle choices. Whenever possible, eat organically and sustainably-produced produce, and locally-sourced food from farmers who use safe practices – no synthetic pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals, and do not use GMO (genetically-modified substances, crops, or feed for their animals). Eat meats/meat products, raw dairy, safe-sourced seafood, eggs from pastured birds, and fats from healthy sources such as butter, lard, tallow, olive oil, coconut oil, and sustainable produced palm oils. Throw out artificial fats like margarine, “butter spreads” and those containing soy and vegetable oils like canola, soybean, cottonseed, and others. Remember: a real, whole food is something that our ancestors would have eaten. If it’s not real, don’t eat it! For some ideas on foods that really pack a nutrient-dense punch, check out this list: 11 Healthy and Nutrient-Dense Foods At A Glance. Want more information on what the differences are between processed, whole, traditional, organic, and sustainable foods? Read: How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out! […]
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