When I first got out of college I worked in nutrition education. It was my job to help people understand the impact of their food choices on their health and their weight. I found that a lot of people, regardless of their weight, felt confident that they were making good choices at the grocery store and didn’t need to worry too much about food quality for themselves or their children. In general, I think we trust that if we can buy it at the grocery store, it’s fairly safe.
As I did research for my job, I was overwhelmed by how much the landscape of food has changed over the last 100 years or so. I was shocked by how different our food is now than it was then – and I’m not referring to the abundance of processed foods but to changes in whole foods like chicken, eggs and milk.
I’m not an alarmist but I do think it’s important that everyone understand the realities of our food supply so they can make the best decisions possible.
It’s become imperative to consider organic, free-range proteins and dairy options versus conventionally raised. As recently as 100 years ago, there weren’t any factory-farmed animals at all. Animals were raised naturally, allowed to graze and mature naturally. They were not treated with growth hormones and antibiotics. They were not fed genetically modified grain products. They ate grass.
Now, it can be a challenge to find natural, hormone-free meat. Ninety percent of what you’ll find in the grocery store has been significantly manipulated. These animals (and their eggs and dairy products) grew in dark, confined spaces where disease spread easily. They were injected with growth hormones to speed development. These hormones decreased their ability to absorb nutrients from their feed. They were treated with powerful antibiotics throughout their life to try to prevent bacterial overgrowth. Their diets were primarily commercially produced, genetically modified grain also loaded with chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics.
The frightening result? Meat, eggs and dairy that have lower vitamin and mineral content than that of 100 years ago. Meat, eggs and dairy that are laced with growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Meat, eggs and dairy with artificially higher content of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Food we can’t trust. Food, quite frankly, that can make us very sick.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables used to be naturally grown by local producers. They weren’t shipped all over the country and the world. They were only seasonally available and they weren’t genetically modified for size and speed of development.
Now, chemical fertilizers are used to accelerate growth. These chemical fertilizers strip valuable nutrients from the soil. Fruits and vegetables are harvested before they’re ripe and allowed to ripen in crates on trucks so they aren’t rotten by the time they get across the country to your grocery store shelf. The combination of reduced soil quality and less time in the ground to absorb nutrients results in fruits and vegetables with significantly lower amounts of essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than that produced 50 years ago or more.
Fruit and vegetable seeds are genetically modified to produce larger crops so they have more commercial appeal. One might think that means more nutritive value but the opposite is actually true. They are bred to have more carbohydrate and water content, making them less nutrient dense.
Some fascinating studies have been conducted on changes in the nutrient profile of our fruits and vegetables. One of the most notable studies, conducted by Donald Davis from the University of Texas at Austin, evaluated changes in the nutrient profile of fruits and vegetables from 1950 vs 1999. He concluded that breeding fruits and vegetables for size and pest resistance significantly reduced the nutrient content by as much as 50%.
So how can we make better choices? It’s not easy but it’s definitely possible and doesn’t need to be more expensive! Buying local produce at a farmer’s market can actually be less expensive than traditional items you’d buy at a grocery store chain!
Good: Buy free-range organic proteins and wild-caught seafood. Buy organic fruits and vegetables.
Better: Find a local farmer’s market. You can stock up on local, seasonal fruits and vegetable and also get meat and eggs from local producers! I also like to buy meat online from reputable farmers. Here are a couple I’ve purchased from before. (I don’t have any affiliate relationship with these companies, just sharing ones I love!)
Massa Natural Meats
Broken Arrow Ranch
Best: Grow your own! Start with a small herb garden or tomato plant. I’ve started to do that this year and I hope to one day have a few chickens so I can enjoy their eggs.
This isn’t meant to scare you but to help empower you to make better choices for yourself and your family. I know you won’t always have the highest quality options available but it’s important to do the best we can.