I’m sure you’ve seen it too: all natural this, organic that, and it’s so much better for you! But is it really? I mean, an apple is an apple, right? So I had to ask:
Is something good for me because it’s all natural?
Essentially, no! If you can afford to buy natural or organic everything, that’s awesome, but it won’t necessarily make you healthier than your GMO eating neighbor. Why? Well, let’s take a look.
Organic and natural labels don’t mean what everyone seems to think they do
To be marketed as “natural,” a food should be pretty fresh off the farm, with little post harvest processing, no added hormones, antibiotics, or artificial additives, including sweeteners or colors. But here’s the catch: most foods that are labeled natural don’t need to be inspected. So the desired branding, if you will, for your food is “organic,” but even that has some flaws.
Just because something’s “organic” doesn’t mean that it’s free of pesticides or harmful chemicals (which not all chemicals are, by the way). According to the USDA, to be labeled organic, a food needs to follow these rules:
- food has to be grown in a way that helps the environment,
- produce growers can’t use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered crops, or certain types of fertilizers,
- live stock, aka cows, pigs, and all those other animals we eat, must be able to see the sun (or at least get outside if they live in Seattle or Alaska during the winter)
- the food can’t be exposed to radiation, which is just a fancy term for high energy stuff
These guidelines seem really inclusive, but think of all the things that it doesn’t cover, like transport or storage. There are a lot of things that could go wrong during these time frames, making your organic produce less than desirable. And with so few pesticides and other preservatives (which we’ll dive farther in to next), a lot of the produce will spoil before it makes it to the table, increasing the cost for the producers and, thus, the consumer. Not only that, but notice that I put some emphasis on the word synthetic. There are a lot of pesticides out there that aren’t synthetic, and according to organic guidelines, those are 100% fine to use, but they perform the same action as the synthetic ones!
Now, if you’re not convinced or if you’re just looking for an interesting read on how to selectively buy organic produce, I really like Practical Paleo. She has a great section on what to watch out for and how to balance your desire for organic produce and your wallet’s appreciation of you not spending your entire paycheck on food. For future reference, I am not paleo, but I do like a lot of their recipes since I am allergic to gluten.
A lot of the chemicals you find in foods are there to keep you from getting sick
Processed food is pretty new if you think back to the stone age, but preserving food has been done pretty much all throughout time. People used to preserve meat with salt brines or smoking and fruits could be preserved in sugar water. So why did we have to come up with all of these new chemicals to preserve food? Many of the new health proponents would have you believe that it’s because the evil food companies wanted to make more money, but actually, it came out of consumer need. When people saw that you could prolong the life of the food they bought, demand from the public for preservatives to keep foods from spoiling became pretty high. Food companies put preservatives as well as pesticides in their food to keep consumers from dealing with things like E. coli and salmonella. We don’t hear about these bugs too often now because food is stored better and contains chemicals to kill these.
The “cancerous” substances that people are complaining about may not be as bad as they claim
Just because something is a carcinogen doesn’t mean it’s going to definitely give you cancer. The most recent example of this (at least at time of publication) is processed meat. A report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer recently came out that said that processed meat is a class 1 carcinogen and red meat is a class 2a carcinogen. This means that there is definitely an elevated risk for cancer (colon, specifically) with processed meat and a likelihood of elevated risk for red meat. But that’s not the whole story! Eating 50 grams of processed meat per day (or about 2 strips of bacon) increases your risk of cancer by 18%. Sure, that sounds like a lot, but let’s think about smoking, which we all know increases your risk of cancer. Smoking raises your risk by a whopping 2400%! If you’re gonna have a vice, I’d say bacon is a much better option than smoking. If you’re seriously worried about it or your already have an elevated risk of colon cancer because of heredity, then sure, stop eating your Spam (does anyone actually eat that?), but if you’re a healthy individual who enjoys bologna or bacon, have at it and know that you’re not dooming yourself to chemo.
The dose makes the poison
Finally, probably the strongest argument in chemistry in general is that anything can be harmful, it really just depends on the quantity. I could list a bunch of things that are “all natural” that will still kill you, but I’ll save that for a later date. This one is toxicology 101, y’all. In high enough amounts, even water will kill you. At the end of the day, if you ingest a ton of the same bad stuff, you’re going to get sick. Why do I say this? Because most of the “scary stuff” that we eat isn’t going to be around in high enough quantities to really do any damage. If you’re really worried about a specific food, do your research, but don’t stress!
So do you try to eat all natural? Has any of this info changed your outlook?