Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You are what your food ate - what did our food eat?

You are what your food ate - what did our food eat?

In general, folks don't know a whole heck of a lot about the foods that they eat every day; they couldn't pick a tomato plant out of a garden line up, couldn't tell you if carrots grow under ground or on a tree (underground, if you were wondering) or what grows in which season locally. The great news is that there has been a booming interest to get in back into the kitchen and garden.
You're probably heard the phrase "you are what you eat", and it is true, but more acurately, "you are what your food ate". The nutrients from your food and beverages are used by your body for energy, to build and repair bones and tissues and to keep your body moving and grooving. Wholesome foods in the right balance literally leads to better structural integrity of our bodies, which means we’re healthier now (and later) and less prone to disease. But if you feed your body junk, eat too much or too little, you don't have the right building blocks to maintain a healthy body and immune system.

You are what your food ate is easy to think about with animal foods. For example, wild salmon is typically richer in omega-3 fatty acids than farm raised. Free range chickens that have a varied diet lay eggs that are more nutrients dense, higher in omega-3 and vitamin D and lower in cholesterol, than conventionally raised hens that receive no sunshine and only eat chicken chow.

While it is a bit more abstract, this same line of thinking is also applicable to our produce; plants get their nutrients from the soil. With the rise of industrialized agriculture, fertilizer became an industrial product for purchase. Farmers focus on the application of three main minerals; nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These are three important nutrients for plants, but only needing those three is too simple. It would be similar to saying that humans need only carbohydrates, protein and fats and forget about vitamins, minerals and water – we need all of those things. When we eat produce from fertile soil, we reap the benefits of healthy, nutrient dense products.

How do we increase soil fertility? By adding compost and rotating crops. Compost adds an enormous variety of nutrients back into the soil as well as microorganisms (think: probiotics for the soil). The jungle of little critters in the soil benefits the plant in two ways; by suppressing pathogens and by assisting with nutrient absorption from the soil.

Crop rotation – changing the plants grown in a specific area each season – is important too. Different classes of plants take various nutrients from the soil – if you keep growing the same plant in the same spot, it is going to deplete the soil of the nutrients that it uses each year.

While a recent study received media attention for their findings that organic produce is not more nutrient dense than conventional, many other studies do find a significant nutritional benefit of organiclly raised fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that not all farmers grow their crops in the same way – so it makes sense that the results are varied. And as a whole, the body of research is still growing.

Vote with your wallet and your fork – by supporting organic agriculture, you’re valuing fertile soil and by proxy, nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. If you shop locally and try growing some of your own produce, you know exactly what you’re getting. You are what your food ate – make sure that your food ate good stuff too.

Reader poll: do you purchase organic produce? Why or why not?

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