Would you invest $500,000 in a business in which you make $18,000 a year? I’m going to guess no. Unfortunately, this is the case for the average chicken farmer. The food industry is big business, and as a result, our food quality tends to suffer. In the battle against obesity and a society whose vitality battery is running close to zero, many of us are missing the big picture when it comes to what we put in our body.
In the amazing documentary Food Inc., we learn than the average grocery store has 47,000 products on hand, but only five companies own nearly 100% of those products. How can only a handful of companies ensure that all these foods have the very best ingredients available to us?
Sadly for the general public, this requires that the consumer needs to do his or her respective homework. Calorie counting does very little for your engine if the gasoline you put in your tank is spoiled. I’ve come across clients who have counted their calories down to the very almond and yet still gained weight.
Let’s look at how the issue of food quality intervenes in our everyday life as well as some practical solutions.
The Food is Only as Good as The Source
All the grilled chicken salads in the world won’t do you any good if the chicken in the salad is of low quality. You might have heard the saying you can’t make chicken salad from chicken (insert expletive). It isn’t uncommon for some farmers to feed chickens an all-grain diet while keeping the animals pent up in cages. These cages keep the animals away from natural sunlight and prevent them from roaming freely (1). The grain diet saves the farmers money and can get the chicken to be as big as a house, but it isn’t what nature designed the chicken to eat. As a result, the quality of the protein and fats in the chicken decline and the animal can become sick, resulting in famers pumping an endless supply of hormones and anti-biodies into the animal that we end up ingesting.
So it’s possible, or more than likely, you’re eating an animal riddled with these problems. If the animal is devoid of nutrients because of how it’s treated, then the food can’t do much for you. This same reasoning applies to meat, poultry, and seafood.
What you should do: Attend a farmer’s market or find a local butcher. Either or should tell you where their farm is located and proudly state how the animal is humanely treated and eats only what it was meant to eat.
Take Out Means Bread, Bread, and More Bread
Ever order a sandwich that looks nothing like the same sandwich in an advertisement? Do you need Indiana Jones to find that incredibly thin piece of meat wedged in between two giant hunks of bread? In the restaurant world, protein and fats are expensive so companies tend to skimp on them to cut costs. This is why guacamole at your local taco hut costs extra. However, carbohydrates like grains and wheat are cheap, and this is why companies have no problem dolling out free bread sticks. It’s also why you should save eating out as a treat once or twice a week and not something you do every day because of a lack of planning.
The more refined carbohydrates you have, the more problems you create for a hormone called insulin. Insulin is responsible for transferring energy into the tissues of our body, and excessive refined carbohydrate intake can damage your body’s ability to control insulin. When insulin is not controlled, it’s possible to gain weight and develop cardiovascular issues. If you live off of takeout food, then you’re probably not getting enough protein either. Protein is essential for healthy weight control. In a study comparing high protein intake to high carbohydrate, both groups lost the same amount of weight, but the high protein group preserved more muscle mass (2).
What you should do: If you have no choice but to eat out, get a sandwich wrapped in lettuce. Any side you order should be vegetables.
Fruits and Vegetables
Similar to our chicken discussion earlier, fruits and vegetables are great for you – as long as they’re treated right. This means plenty of sunshine, water, and a pesticide/herbicide free diet. It’s estimated that the United States alone sprays 500 million pounds of pesticides on crops a year (3)! The research on these chemicals continues to this day, but much of it points to the destruction of our digestive, hormonal, and nervous systems. Furthermore, today’s farming practices have destroyed the soil we grow our crops in. As a result, you’re spending money on produce that doesn’t have nearly the vitamins and minerals of the food grown decades ago.
Always go organic. Growing concern from consumers means more of us have access to organic food and the increased demand is making it more affordable than ever before. Either way you look at it you win: the food will either have more nutrients or loss pesticides (sometimes both). In a meta-analysis comparing the consumption of organic food, researchers found mothers who ate organic dairy had infants with a decreased risk of eczema (4).
What you should do: Go organic or hit up the farmer’s markets.
The Juice Movement
Smoothies and juicing are more popular than ever. The same rules of smart shopping apply, and stopping in a local health food store may mean spending money on inferior produce. In fact, I met a guy who ran a juice bar and he actually bought spoiled produce from the wholesaler because it was half the cost! Not to lump every business in the same category, but they exist to make money – and this might mean cutting costs on quality food. As a concerned consumer, you have a right to know what you’re putting in your body. You can make your own smoothies with organic ingredients. If you want to support a local business, don’t be afraid to ask a few questions about their produce. If they start sweating bullets, then you’ll know to run the other way.
With food being big business, most of us that think we’re eating healthy really aren’t. Healthy eating goes far beyond how many calories are in the food and starts with how the food has been treated. Just like you would put work into finding a good contractor to construct an addition to your house, make sure you pay attention to where you food comes from.
1. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego; Chek Institute Publishing. 2004; page 68-69
2. Wycherley, T.P., Brinkworth, G.D., et al. “Comparison of the Effects of 52 Weeks Weight Loss With Etiehr a High Protein or High Cabrohydrate Diet on Body Composition and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Males.” (2012) Nutrition and Diabetes 2, e40; doi:10.1038/nutd.2012.11
3. Holford, Patrick. The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. London: Crossing Press. 2004. pp 32-33
4. Dangour, A.D., Lock, A., et al. “Nutrition Related Health Effects of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review” (2010) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 92;1, 203-210