A Healthy Organic Diet
From Chapter 4 of "Home Grown Food" by Milo Shammas
Often the best advice is simple. Choose a wide variety of healthful foods grown in natural soil. Cook them as little as you need to make them appealing and digestible. Eat whole foods in their natural form. The less you do to a food, the more nutrients it retains.
Eat food grown organically. No chemicals in or on the produce. No antibiotics or growth hormones in the meat and poultry. (Shop at a farmer’s market or look for produce certified as organic. Buy grass-fed beef and free-range chicken from a butcher you trust.) Prefer fatty fish caught wild not farmed.
Avoid processed, refined, nutrient-poor foods, including grains, legumes, processed oils and refined sugar in its many disguises. Eat nothing from a “food factory” or with a long list of unfamiliar ingredients.
Start Small if You Must
If you cannot go completely organic at first, you can still get many nutritional benefits from organic food without straining your food budget. First, buy those organic foods that have more nutritional value than conventional produce:
Other studies show that milk, oranges, peaches and other fruits have more nutrition in their organic versions.
Second, limit your toxic exposure by buying the organic versions of those foods most heavily sprayed with pesticides. The Environmental Working Group has developed a list of 12 fruits sprayed most heavily with pesticides.
• Bell peppers
• Grapes (especially imported)
The 12 foods below are the least tainted by pesticide residues. If you have to buy conventionally grown produce, start with these without much concern.
• Sweet corn
• Sweet peas
How Raw Organic Food Makes the Difference
Organic food is healthier for you in two ways: nutrient density and purity. Whole, natural foods give you bioavailable nutrients. Because these foods are at or close to their natural state, they easily break down for maximum use. The simpler the molecule, the easier it is for you to absorb.
Bioavailability varies among people because we are unique individuals. The important variables include how foods are cooked, how fast a person chews and swallows, enzymes and probiotics in the digestive tract, age, alcohol consumption, metabolic rate, gastrointestinal disorders or disease, and general health. Also, when you eat organic food, you avoid or stop exposing yourself to the wide array of pesticides, heavy metals, nitrates and other contaminants in conventional crops. Minimizing contamination and bioaccumulation helps you get closer to the best health you can achieve. Finally, if you want to get or keep your healthy weight, organic produce lets you eat less, because the nutrient density is higher.
Nutrients AND Your Health
Organic crops contain significantly more phytonutrients than conventionally grown foods. Acting as nutraceuticals, phytonutrients support healthy blood vessels, connective tissue, major organs and all other parts of the body. They protect us from toxics in the environment and in conventionally grown food. They also help control different bacteria and pathogenic fungi, free radicals and carcinogens. Phytonutrients come in all colors. Grow a wide color variety of fruits and vegetables to gain a wider spectrum of phytonutrients.
Antioxidants and Disease Prevention
Organic produce also offers many antioxidants (vitamin C, polyphenols and flavonoids), micronutrients and minerals. The word antioxidant literally means “against oxidation.” Antioxidant is a collective term for micronutrients, trace elements, vitamins, polyphenols, and carotenoids. Antioxidants protect you against the damaging effects of free radicals, some of which come from environmental exposures to air and water pollution, radiation, herbicides and cigarette smoke.
Antioxidants can even affect genetic makeup, the DNA that carries your genetic code and helps determine your lifespan. For example, the extra-long lifespan of the Japanese is partly due to their diet of raw vegetables and fish, both rich in antioxidants. The most common antioxidant foods include liver, fish, grains, nuts, citrus, berries, tomatoes, colored fruits, and vegetables.
One of the protective antioxidants is sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables such as kale and broccoli. (They are called cruciferous because of the cross-like shape of their cell arrangement.) In studies of rats and mice, sulforaphane inhibited the development of cancer in many organs. Human studies have yet to find a strong link to reduced risk of cancer, but cruciferous vegetables do inhibit the carcinogenic process. They also support all the organs that detoxify the bloodstream and increase the bioavailability of other nutrients.
Why care about oxidation and the damaging effects of free radicals? Oxidation breaks down the body at the cellular level. Free radicals rob electrons from molecules and the cell membranes that encompass the DNA in your genes. As the molecules react with each other, free radicals damage the connective tissue of muscles, organs and other complex structures. Free radicals can also cause cognitive impairment, macular degeneration, cataracts, Alzheimer’s disease, immune dysfunction, cardiovascular diseases and a variety of cancers.
Antioxidants stop this destructive process by neutralizing free radicals. The human body does eventually break down, but antioxidants help keep it together longer.
Prebiotics and High-Fiber Foods
Prebiotics are non-digestible, high-fiber ingredients that form a receptive environment for the beneficial probiotics in your intestines. Typically, they are carbohydrates found in grains and greens, but they can also come from soluble fibers. Fruits and vegetables, especially fibrous ones with thick veins, also promote healthy bowel regularity. The digestive tract slows down on a diet of meats and highly processed foods loaded with simple sugars and preservatives. Metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories for energy) also slows. When digestion and elimination are sluggish, the colon fills with undigested, putrefied waste. The longer this toxic matter sits in your intestines, the greater the risk it will leak into your system with potentially devastating results. The high-fiber foods (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) along with probiotics help your body quickly remove waste and non-essentials. These healthy foods literally drag out impurities through elimination.
Eat from your garden what is good for your health. For most people, the ideal diet includes a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus protein from simple, healthy sources. You don’t have to eat meat to be healthy. Plenty of lifelong vegetarians have all the nutrition they need to remain healthy and vigorous. To eat meat or not is a lifestyle choice based on personal values. Whatever lifestyle choices you make, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables takes the guesswork out of finding nutrient balance. Mother Nature is the best chemist. Raw or lightly cooked foods give the best bioavailability, which is the ratio of how much of a nutrient you eat to how much of it you absorb. Only what you can absorb nourishes you.
If you take vitamin and mineral supplements, make sure they are food-based. Complement supplements with synergistic, broad-spectrum catalysts such as probiotics and a wide variety of digestive enzymes. These will help your body extract the nutrients to make them bioavailable.
Where to Shop - The Farmer’s Market First
The healthiest food you can buy is grown by certified organic farmers near you. These devoted men and women are close to the earth and have chosen to help feed people the healthy, natural way. They deserve your support and encouragement for many reasons. Visiting a farmer’s market is like a large community gathering. You get to know and trust the farmers you see again and again, as well as your like-minded neighbors. What you spend at the farmer’s market supports your local economy not a distant mega-corporation. For many people, the farmer’s market is part of their regular schedule. They don’t want to miss it.
The Best Produce You Can Buy
The produce at a farmer’s market is:
Safe (no pesticides or other chemicals)
Healthy (higher nutrient density)
Fresh (never frozen or gassed)
Diverse (varieties you can’t find in supermarkets)
Local (not trucked or flown from far away)
Once you find a farmer’s market you like, you may never want to go back to a supermarket. (Note: Not everything at a farmer’s market will be organic. Look for the organic certificate on the booth. Or ask. Some farmers are on their way to becoming organic. Talk with them about their methods. Some foods that don’t meet strict organic rules are still nutritious and healthy for you.)
What to Avoid
Your local supermarket is not a healthy place to buy your food. Except for the organics you can trust, little in a conventional grocery store has good nutrition and taste. Processed and packaged food (with the nutrition diminished) is full of chemical preservatives that give it shelf life but no positive nutrition. It uses salt as a preservative and sugar and fats to make it taste good. Your taste buds are not educated in nutrition.
Even grocery store produce is not safe or healthy. Most of the fruits and vegetables have been grown in dead soil, exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. They are also picked before they are ripe, exposed to gases to accelerate the ripening, refrigerated to retard spoilage, and trucked hundreds of miles to the store. For stores in the Northern Hemisphere, out-of-season fruits, such as apples and grapes, can be flown thousands of miles from New Zealand and Chile.
What the grocery store offers you was not grown or made with your health in mind. What then? Corporate profits. In one sense, your local supermarket is not really a local business. It is a distribution point at the end of a huge, profit-driven system to produce cheap, “food-like” substances for a population that cannot tell the difference between a real tomato and one from a food factory. Grocery store produce often is low in taste and nourishment but profitable.
Taste and freshness aside, the imitation tomato has little food value. Low-quality produce has low amounts of total dissolved sugars and low nutrient content. Your body needs to convert dissolved sugars into the energy you need for life. You get that from sweet, juicy produce picked ripe. Beyond the produce section, almost everything the supermarket sells has been highly processed and carefully packaged to make you want it while you ignore what is in it. Food processors use an array of synthesized chemicals to fabricate the taste, texture and appearance of what you eat. Food additives are not there for your nutrition but to make the pseudo food a more profitable product.
Supermarket food undermines your health by exposing you to chemicals and other substances linked to the diseases of modern society: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity. These all stem from or are made worse by how we live, what we eat and the environment we live in. The “grocery store diet” is not healthy for you.
Be Flexible and Moderate
Not everyone has the time or energy to shop organically. If you work a 9-to-5 job and live in a small rented space in the middle of the city, growing your own food can seem like a fantasy. Yet, some people make a small vertical garden on a sunny balcony. You can grow something to enjoy even in that tiny space such as herbs or the vine climbing varieties of beans and peas.
For most people, shopping at the supermarket is practical and a strong habit. It’s convenient to where they live or work. They know what to expect and are lured in by weekly specials. And the food is consistent from month to month. Plus, the supermarket often has a pharmacy and a liquor department attached. Most people cannot resist all that convenience and security.
Even if you shop regularly at a supermarket, you can still support organic values and ideals. When you buy organic food in your local market, you help support the farmers who made the expensive and difficult conversion from conventional to organic methods. While organic food costs more than conventional food, you have to measure the short-term cost against the long-term benefit of conserving our soil and eating produce that supports your overall good health.
Converting a farm from conventional to organic methods requires an enormous investment risk in both money and time. You can support and motivate the people making these conversions by buying as much organic food as you can afford from local markets. By the sources you choose to obtain your food, you vote for how you want your food produced.
Growing and eating organically is a lifestyle and life-changing decision. As you ask questions and learn more, one day going organic will seem like a small step toward a better, healthier life.
Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator