Despite your best planning efforts you have just reached a fork in the road at the grocery store and you don’t feel confident on which road to take. You assessed your food stocks at home and made a grocery list using The Hierarchy of Carbohydrates. Being a good planner, you also have a grocery budget in mind, which is where things get complicated.
Do you save money buying conventional or take the path less traveled and buy organic? Is organic really all it’s cracked up to be or is it a scam? Are you paying extra for more nutrition or is it all hype? Are some conventional foods ok?
These are all great questions that you should be thinking about when you make the choice to be, or not to be…ORGANIC.
I’m going to answer those questions in short order and then get down to which foods are the most important to buy organic in my Dirty Dozen and why. This will be your nutritional and financial road map at the grocery store.
Truth, Hype, and Why Stanford Will Never be the Real Ivy League
Eating organic takes commitment. The extra financial commitment is obvious. If you are really diligent about buying organic there can also be an extra commitment of time and effort to even finding organic food.
There are those that argue that organic food isn’t more nutritious than conventional food and that you are paying extra money for nothing. I will cover where that argument came from and how they missed the mark to give you definitive guides for budgeting your money, time, and energy so that you can maximize your SLAPP (Strength, Longevity, Athleticism, mental & physical Performance, and Power-to-Weight Ratio).
What am I getting for the extra money?
A 2012 Stanford study did a meta-analysis on the nutritional content of organic foods vs. conventionally grown foods. They concluded that there is a lack of evidence supporting that organic foods have a higher nutritional content than conventional.
There are several critics of the Stanford study who say there were mistakes made and that many nutrients were overlooked/undervalued by the Stanford group. Dr. Kirsten Brandt, an agricultural scientist, is one of those critics who conducted her own meta-analysis that included many of the same studies that Stanford used.
Highlights of Brandt’s conclusions (aka, what you are getting for the extra money):
- Stanford researchers chose to “include [nutrients] where the difference was smallest to begin with” while omitting others…Strike 1, Stanford.
- The Stanford study concluded there was no difference in flavanol content, which contradicted Brandt’s findings. A closer look showed that the Stanford researchers merely misspelled the word flavanol. That’s a mistake that minimized one of the major benefits of organic produce…Strike 2, Stanford.
- Organic produce has significantly higher levels of Vitamin C.
- Organic produce has significantly higher levels of “secondary metabolites,” which the Stanford study either totally ignored or overlooked depending on which ones we are talking about. Secondary metabolites include antioxidants, polyphenols, flavanoids and phytonutrients. For plants they serve as the defense mechanisms against pests, fungi and other plants that would threaten them. When a plant isn’t sprayed with conventional pesticides it is forced to make more secondary metabolites to defend itself, which is why organic produce has a significantly higher content. For humans that eat them, they are one of the major health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables that are unique to these two food groups…Strike 3, Stanford.
More importantly, what am I NOT getting for the extra money?
Eating organic has never been about getting more nutrients for me. It is about not getting all the conventional pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones and antibiotics that can affect health, metabolism or a child’s development. These chemicals are toxic, forcing our liver and immune system to work overtime, which takes energy away from other areas like proper digestion, cognitive function, fat metabolism, ATP production, and tissue repair. They also mimic estrogen activity in our bodies.
“[Conventional] meat and dairy is loaded with hormones and conventional produce is sprayed with pesticides, all of which virtually mimic estrogen activity in our bodies.”
- Ori Hofmekler, The Anti-Estrogenic Diet: How Estrogenic Foods and Chemicals are Making You Fat and Sick
Real Talk about pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and xenoestrogens.
If weight loss is your goal you will want to steer clear of conventional meat and produce because they are packed with estrogenic chemicals that bind to estrogen receptors in fatty tissue, which increases estrogen levels and activity. Extra estrogen increases the size of the estrogen-sensitive fatty tissue. As the fatty tissue grows it produces even more estrogen, which continues a vicious cycle! There is a good chance that the stubborn fat you can’t lose despite your consistent training and your best efforts at achieving a calorie deficit is linked to estrogen dominance brought on by estrogenic chemicals in your food (I’ll have to tackle the calorie-in, calorie out stuff in another article). Check out The Anti-Estrogenic Diet for an in depth breakdown of the harmful affects of estrogen dominance and how you can avoid it through diet and lifestyle changes.
If you care about longevity you should keep in mind that the above listed estrogenic chemicals have been shown to cause cancer and increase the rate at which cancerous cells grow. There was also a recent study that found drug-resistant bacteria in half of the conventional raised meat in the US due to the antibiotics those animals are given.
If you care about your unborn baby’s physical and mental development you will probably be interested to find out that significant prenatal exposure to conventional pesticides causes brain abnormalities that negatively impact future cognitive function, reflexes, and is linked to ADHD.
If you care about your newborn’s health and development, you should know that they are far more susceptible to the harmful affects of pesticides, especially the ones that disrupt hormone function. Infants, like my 3-month old daughter Ryan, are ridiculously cute and loveable, but they are also pretty helpless. Their immune and digestive systems still have a lot of maturing to do before they can fight off xenoestrogens.
If you care about the environment and the animals we share Earth with you should know that conventional farming is responsible for untold damage to our soil and the air we breath, the unethical and inhumane treatment of animals, and one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse affect.
Where do you go from here?
Hopefully, this has presented you with the information you need to walk the road less traveled with confidence. I realize the extra commitment it takes because I live it every day. I am by no means a rich man and time and energy are limited balancing my clients, my family, and owning a gym, but we make it work because we feel it’s important. When you place importance on something you find a way to make it work.
Like you, I work hard to support my family. We live on a budget and I know how great it is to find ways to spend money without having to sacrifice health and fitness. That’s why I created a road map for you to go with all this information. Check out my Dirty Dozen: The 12 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic and my upcoming article on which foods are ok to save money on by eating conventional. Register for my newsletter at the bottom of the page so you don’t miss out.