Roam any local health store (and increasingly many conventional supermarkets) and you’ll likely come across shelves of food stamped with “organic”, “free-range” and “grass-fed”. More consumers than ever are demanding ethically sourced and organically certified products; whether for environmental sustainability (after all, food accounts for approximately 20% of Australia’s ecological footprint), animal welfare, or for what we don’t ingest when going “greener” with our food – namely chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. The ways we grow, raise, acquire, and consume our food has an effect on the world around us and of course on our own health through the quality of what we, the consumer, choose to eat. Our body is a highly complex machine, constantly repairing, rebuilding and rejuvenating itself using nutrients from the food we eat as building blocks – and by ensuring the best possible quality intake of nutritious food, as well as opting to switch to more bio-dynamically grown ingredients without a synthetic chemical load (which has the potential to affect the bodies delicate chemical processes) where possible, we can help provide our body with exactly what it needs to look and feel its best.
When we look in more detail at source of our ingredients many great differences arise in agricultural practises, in our how food is grown and raised. For example, in organic verses conventional farming organic crops must be produced without synthetic fertilizer and pesticides (among other things), and organically raised animals must be given organic feed, steered cleared of antibiotics and growth hormones, and given lots of space to roam and graze. As these farming practices are more expensive to run, organic foods come out pricier than their conventionally grown counterparts – and realistically, when on a budget, this can be problematic. Here shopping smarter can be a real asset – for example, it has been suggested that thicker skinned produce that we peel, such as bananas, may possibly contain less chemical residue in their flesh than produce with thinner skin that we directly eat, such as conventionally grown grape varieties, so opting for non-organic in situations like these isn’t so bad. Or, if buying organic produce just doesn’t fit within your budget, take some additional steps such as thoroughly washing non-organic produce to remove any pesticides (try a three-part-water-to-one-part-vinegar solution in your sink – as pesticides tend to be fat-soluble, simply washing them in water won’t do the trick). Fruits and vegetables are vital for our bodies, so organic or not, we need to be consuming a wide variety on the daily.
When it comes to organic versus conventionally farmed livestock (our producers of dairy, eggs and meat), stark differences are often seen in living quarters, animal welfare, feed (grass-fed verses grain-fed), and an animal’s ability to graze and roam freely in grassy pasture year round. And yes the term, “you are what you eat”, does apply to cows too – nutritional differences in fatty acid compositions have been well established between grass-fed verses grain-fed cows, with grass-fed cows having significantly higher levels of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid. An on-going concern for many individual is that conventionally raised livestock may often be given synthetic hormones, such as oestrogen, to artificially enhance and speed up milk production, as well as antibiotics to counter any rampant infections occurring due to close living quarters. This has led to concerns over the potential negative effects on aspects of the nutritional quality of the end-product when using hormones and antibiotics, which is where considering the source of your ingredients is important – read packages, research companies, and get an idea of their ethics. The only way to really guarantee the source of your product is when buying a certified organic product, such as INCA Organics. Holding this certification allows the guarantee over the quality and source of an ingredient.
Although regulations do exist surrounding the use of synthetic chemicals in farming (levels must have to fall under a threshold to be deemed safe), a considerable issue lies around whether continuous small doses of chemicals, repeatedly over a lifetime, may accumulate and contribute to increased health risks– are we guinea pigs to this idea? It’s important we acknowledge the source of our ingredients and opt for quality wherever we can.
Remember, while one of the most important things to aim for in a healthy diet is the consumption of real food, it’s also important that your real food eats real food too.