Apples are apples and cows are cows…right? A guide to food quality.

Apples are apples and cows are cows…right? Well…

You’ve heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” This is 100% true. The vitamins, minerals and nutrients from the foods you eat end up making up your body, cell by cell.

This saying is accurate and well known but is really in need of an addendum – you are what you eat AND you are what your food eats.

Back to the apples and cows.

An apple grown in an organic orchard comes from a non-genetically modified, organic seed, sprouted in pesticide free soil, and matured without the use of synthetic fertilizers (1). Aesthetically, it may have a few imperfections but it is chocked full of antioxidants (6).

A conventional apple, likely comes from a genetically-modified seed, sprouted in nutrient-poor, pesticide-rich soil and matured with synthetic fertilizers. It contains less antioxidants than it’s organic counterpart and despite being beautiful is coated in pesticide residues (6).

So is an apple an apple?

A grass-fed, organically-raised cow has access to pastures and sunshine, grazes on organically-grown grasses and is not treated with antibiotics or growth hormone (1). Meat from these cows is lean and high in omega-3s (5&8).

A conventionally-raised cow is confined to an indoor pen, fed genetically-modified corn (and shockingly, maybe these too) to fatten it up quickly and receives large doses of antibiotics and growth hormone. Meat from these cows is fatty, higher in inflammatory omega-6s and lower in omega-3s (8). The fat (that coveted marbling) on these cows stores all the toxins the cow was exposed to over it’s lifetime from antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides in the feed.

So is a cow a cow?

Nope. Unfortunately, not. Food used to just be food, but high-yield, low-cost modern-farming practices has changed that. Becoming knowledgeable about food quality is the only way to make informed choices about what you put in your body that ultimately becomes your body.

Below is a guide to help you wade through the various labels you see (organic, natural, cage-free, etc.) and a scale of optimal to standard quality within each food category; produce, beef, pork, poultry, eggs, dairy and seafood.


Produce

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Organic:

  • Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop (1)
  • Seeds and planting stocks must be organic if available. If unavailable, conventional may be used only if they have not been genetically modified or treated with prohibited substances (1&4)
  • Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used (1)
  • Farmers must use crop rotation (1)
  • Contains more antioxidants and possibly more of other nutrients than conventionally –grown produce (3)
  • Contains less pesticide residues than conventionally-raised produce (3)

Conventional:

  • Allows everything organic does not

Local:

  • Produce that was grown “relatively” close to where it is sold.
  • There is no standard distance definition of “local.” A “local” item at the grocery store may have been grown over 100+ miles away where as items at your local farmer’s market were likely grown at near-by family farms. Local produce is considered beneficial because is it much fresher. Fresh produce quickly loses nutrients once harvested.

 

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In order to get the most nutritious bang for your buck try:

  • Shopping at local farmer’s markets
  • Buying organic for the most pesticide-saturated foods and conventional for least -pesticide saturated foods. The Environmental Working Group maintains an updated list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. They offer a free Dirty Dozen app that you can easily access while shopping.

Beef

Grass- fed and finished:

  • Fed solely on grass and forage for their entire lives (7)
  • Never fed grains

Grass-fed:

  • Fed grass and forage for the majority of their lives but moved to a grain-feed lot for finishing before slaughter (7)

Both grass-finished and grass-fed beef are higher omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamin E, vitamin A, glutathione and antioxidants than feed-lot beef (8).

Organic (1):

  • Fed 100% organic agricultural feed (may be corn)
  • Must be out on pasture for the entire grazing season
  • Must have access to the outdoors year-round
  • Must not be given hormones or antibiotics

Natural:

  • “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed” (16)
  • Does not refer to how the animal was raised.

Conventional:

  • Raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
  • Fed grain-based feeds that include corn, soy, (likely GMO) and maybe candy (8)
  • Administered hormones and antibiotics (unless no antibiotics or no hormones specified on the label)

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Pork

Pastured:

  • Pigs roam free in the outdoors and forage for plants, grubs and insects. May also eat corn and soybeans (14).

Organic (1):

  • Fed 100% organic agricultural feed
  • Must be out on pasture for the entire grazing season
  • Must have access to the outdoors year-round
  • Must not be given hormones or antibiotics

Natural:

  • “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed” (16)
  • Does not refer to how the animal was raised.

Conventional (15):

  • Raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
  • Raised indoors in crowded metal crates
  • Given antibiotics
  • Fed GMO feed

No Hormones Added:

  • Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising hogs (16)

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Poultry/Eggs

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Pastured/Pasture-raised/Pasture-fed:

  • Hens roam free outdoors and eat their natural diet of plants and insects. They may also eat animal feed. (13)

Organic (1):

  • Hens fed organic feed
  • Hens are not treated with antibiotics or hormones

Free range:

  • Hens are housed in a structure that allows unlimited access to the outdoors (11)

Cage Free:

  • Hens are housed in a structure that allows room to roam within the structure (11)

Vegetarian Fed/Feed

  • No animal byproducts were used to feed or water the hens (12)
  • Hens are not vegetarians. They eat plants and insects in their natural habitat so this statement pretty much tells you that the hens were fed an unnatural diet.

Natural:

  • “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed” (16)
  • Does not refer to how the animal was raised.

No Hormones Added:

  • Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising poultry.

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Dairy

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Raw (17):

  • Unpasteurized and unhomogenized
  • Retains natural enzymes that help digest dairy
  • State-by-state laws regulate the sale of raw milk
  • In Florida, raw milk sales for human consumption are illegal but sales for animal consumption are legal (18).
  • Learn more about the benefits of raw milk here.

Grass-fed:

  • Dairy from cows that fed on grass and forage for their entire lives or the majority of their lives (7)

Organic (1):

  • Dairy from cows that were:
    • Fed 100% organic agricultural feed (may be corn)
    • Out on pasture for the entire grazing season
    • Had access to the outdoors year-round
    • Not be given hormones or antibiotics

Conventional:

  • Dairy from cows that were:
    • Raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
    • Fed grain-based feeds that include corn, soy, (likely GMO) and maybe candy (8)
    • Administered hormones and antibiotics (unless no antibiotics or no hormones specified on the label)

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Seafood

Wild:

  • Fish or shellfish naturally-born or hatchery-born and released into and caught from the wild (19)
  • Eat a natural diet of marine organisms like krill, plankton and algae (20)
  • Higher omega-3s in wild salmon than farmed salmon (20)

Farm-raised:

  • Fish or shellfish that have been raised in pens in the ocean and have been subject to production enhancements like protection from predators and providing nutrients (19)
  • Fed an artificial diet including GMO grains, corn and soy and chicken meal (20)
  • Chemicals and antibiotics used in fish farms and waste from these farms are released into the ocean (20)
  • Farmed salmon has a disproportionate omega-6: omega-3 ratio (20)

‘Alaskan’ Salmon or ‘Sockeye’ Salmon:

  • Salmon labeled ‘Alaskan’ or ‘Sockeye’ cannot be farmed and is therefore wild (20)

‘Atlantic’ Salmon:

  • Typically salmon labeled ‘Atlantic’ comes from fish farms (20)
  • ‘Atlantic’ salmon may also be genetically engineered (GE). The FDA approved GE Atlantic salmon, called AquAdvantage salmon, in 2015. The genetic modification allows the fish to grow much faster than natural salmon. The FDA states that GE salmon is safe to eat and does not require labeling designating GE from non-GE Atlantic salmon. (24 & 25)

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Blue Label:

  • Designates seafood sustainably sourced from MSC certified wild-capture fisheries (21&22)

Organic:

  • The USDA does not currently certify organic seafood but is in the process of developing organic practice standards for aquaculture. (23)

 

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Disclaimer: I am not a Registered Dietician or licensed medical doctor. I do not diagnose or treat disease, but instead make healthy lifestyle recommendations for balancing the body and promoting optimal wellness. No recommendation or comment made by me should be construed as being medical advice or diagnosis.

References

(1) https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/content/organic-production-handling-standards

(2) http://naturalsociety.com/organic-conventional-food-differences/

(3) http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/14-06-12-Final-Crops-Paper-BJN5552.pdf

(4)https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20Practices%20Factsheet.pdf

(5) http://www.marksdailyapple.com/concentrated-animal-feeding-operations/

(6) http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/18/467136329/is-organic-more-nutritious-new-study-adds-to-the-evidence

(7) http://www.beefboard.org/news/files/factsheets/grass-finished-beef.pdf

(8) http://www.marksdailyapple.com/grass-fed-vs-conventional-when-does-it-matter-most/

(9) http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-differences-between-grass-fed-beef-and-grain-fed-beef/

(10) http://www.ncga.com/uploads/useruploads/corn-fedgrass-fedbeef.pdf

(11) https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/qa-shell-eggs

(12)https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/USDA%20Grademarked%20Product%20Label%20Submission%20Checklist.pdf

(13) http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/04/06/eggstra-eggstra-learn-all-about-them/

(14) http://www.marksdailyapple.com/what-you-should-know-about-pork-production-claims/

(15) Pollan, Michael. The Omnivores Dilema.

(16) https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/meat-and-poultry-labeling-terms/!ut/p/a1/jZHfT4MwEMf_Fh94LC0yl803QmIEHWQhatcXU7ZrISktaTsJ_vUyjSYzm-7u6e4-39wvzDDFTPO3VnLfGs3VIWbzV7Im82iZkrxcRnckK57X5UOakkV1MwGbP4AivlB_xhLynz6_oMG1XaUriVnPfYNaLQymEjzi2g1gHabCmB1yXIAfkeBbj1wD4L8LitegWi0x7YAfVDvUm73ydvwpIQ-2c_gFs-NpSDR5VsTV7D4vYlLOfgMnzvUFnL_HtLBUpv78zSbRdbyYNrMgwIIN93ZKN9737jYgARmGIZTGSAXh1nQBOSVpjPOYHpO4757o-2MiqgyxehyuPgCErj8l/#15

(17) http://www.realmilk.com/brochures/real-milk-brochure/

(18) https://www.realmilk.com/state-updates/#fl

(19) http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=0bfba9505f9e71f6ad1b482c1fc1c99a&rgn=div5&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.1.7&idno=7#se7.3.60_1133

(20) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/12/21/9-farmed-fish-facts.aspx

(21) https://www.msc.org/about-us/blue-msc-ecolabel-traceable-sustainable-seafood

(22) https://www.msc.org/about-us/standards

(23) https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/organic-aquaculture

(24)https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/GeneticEngineering/GeneticallyEngineeredAnimals/ucm473238.htm

(25)https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/GeneticEngineering/GeneticallyEngineeredAnimals/ucm473238.htm

 

 

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