I’m sure by now you probably already have an opinion about organic food. Some people live solely off organic produce swearing that doing anything to the contrary would be simply blasphemous. Others call it a giant ripoff created by a struggling produce industry looking to up their profit margins. My opinion lies somewhere in between. Today, I want to talk about why that is and also about some other controversial food topics I’m guessing you’ve also heard about like GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and nitrates.
When it comes to organic food, I think that both extreme sides stated above have solid arguments. However, they’re also both wrong. The idea behind the organic movement is that any pesticides are bad for you – they kill bugs, so they can’t be good for you. I agree with this, and given an unlimited grocery budget I’d likely send my personal assistant to pick up only organic produce. However, that’s not the case, and people who buy organic food only are wasting a lot of money. Foods that have outer layers that we don’t eat absolutely do not need to be organic. Think about a banana or an avocado. If it has a protective layer that you remove before eating, then it doesn’t matter what’s been sprayed on it. You’re protecting your insides, not the trash can. An environmental non profit has come up with a list of the top 12 foods that you should try to get organic and a top 15 list of foods that you really shouldn’t worry about being organic (as well as any foods with outer removable layers). Check them out, try to use them as guidelines and don’t freak out if you can’t find organic peaches once in a blue moon.
Onto the next item on the list: genetically modified organisms (GMO)s. These are foods where scientists have tampered with their DNA to be more resistant to environmental threats and naturally occurring genetic flaws. The basic controversy behind these (which I actually didn’t know until today) is that we really don’t know what these could be doing to us. There have been no long term studies done on the effects of GMOs on people, so many people out there are wondering what they’ll do to us. The upside as I see it is that these are probably better for us than foods covered in pesticides, as the changes to produce from GMOs occur internally. But I guess the problem is that we really don’t know.
The next culprit I’m sure you’ve heard about is high fructose corn syrup. I have a clear side on this one, however. High fructose corn syrup is bad bad bad for you. Avoid it whenever possible
. I’m sure you’ve heard that eating processed sugar is bad in general. HFCS is basically sugar on steroids. Not only is it super concentrated, but here’s a little science behind it. When making it, the glucose and fructose are separated from each other
(in nature they’re bound together). When this happens, the fructose is piped directly into your liver, which turns on a factory of fat production in your liver called lipogenesis. This leads to fatty liver disease, which is also bad bad bad. Look it up if you’re curious. Also, HFCS is basically synonymous with bad, processed food. If the food you’re holding has this on the ingredient list, it’s likely cheap and won’t go bad for months on end – things you should not want in foods you ingest.
Finally… nitrates! Nitrates are preservatives found in lots of common foods like lunch meat, bacon, hot dogs, jerky, salami and smoked fish. They’re also used as rat poison in higher doses. So, unsurprisingly they’re also highly linked to colorectal cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, heart disease, ovarian, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic and thyroid cancers. The big problem here is that many people eat these kinds of food every day. Think about all the lunch meat you’ve probably eaten in your life – it’s not like this serious problem ingredient is in some far-flung delicacy. Luckily, the anti-nitrate movement has really taken hold on even the mainstream supermarkets. In my local supermarket they now have a separate nitrate-free deli meat and bacon section. It’s usually pretty easy to spot the “no nitrates added” labels on the front of the products. Do yourself a favor and cut this one out of your diet. It’s not a difference you can taste, but it’s one I really think might affect our long-term health.
There are tons of food controversies, and these are only a few. Hopefully, armed with a little more info, you’ll be able to pick the important stuff up and cut the nasty stuff out during your next trip to the supermarket. Happy shopping!