A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition came to the conclusion that organically grown produce and livestock had a similar nutrient offering to conventionally grown food. The reviewers trawled all the research for the past 50 years and found only 55 good quality research studies comparing organic and conventionally grown food, many conducted this century. The comparison did not include pesticide residue or the environmental impact.
In many cases, it won’t matter how you dress up organic produce because most people won’t be prepared to pay the premium price. The other critical factor is that less than one in ten adults eat enough fruit and vegetables to be good for them. Most adults need to double their vegetable intake to get the benefits they provide, before they start to wonder whether they should go organic or not.
Fresh produce in Australia is tested for pesticide residues. Most farmers will ensure that they meet the withholding times to ensure they are below the Maximum Residue Limits for pesticides, which are set by international scientific agreement. A lot of fresh produce has no detectable pesticide or herbicide residue at the point of sale. All the same, this will not appease many people who prefer no pesticides to be used in the first place (and if they weren’t used then fruit and vegetables will be a lot more expensive than they are now).
If you can afford it, and you eat plenty of organic produce, then keep buying it. Many of you already are, as the organic market is rapidly growing. It sends a message that you prefer food that is a little more gentle on the environment. For those of us with plenty of mouths to feed and a modest budget, then feel comfortable eating good quality conventionally grown food, as the nutrient levels are very similar to organic produce. Remember that how you look after fresh produce after it has been bought will have the greatest impact on its nutrient content. Eat fresh food as soon as you can after purchase to get the most nutrients from your meal.
For good health we need carbohydrates
‘Carbohydrates have been and will continue to be an essential part of any human dietary requirement for hundreds of years, unless a fundamental mutation occurs,’ says Christian Nordqvist in Medical News Today.
‘The obesity explosion in most industrialized countries, and many developing countries, is a result of several contributory factors. One could easily argue for or against higher or lower carbohydrate intake, and give compelling examples, and convince most people either way. However, some factors have been present throughout the obesity explosion and should not be ignored: Less physical activity, fewer hours sleep each night, higher consumption of junk food, higher consumption of food additives, coloring, taste enhancers, artificial emulsifiers, etc, more abstract mental stress due to work, mortgages, and other modern lifestyle factors.
In rapidly developing countries, such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, obesity is rising as people’s standards of living are changing. However, for their leaner nationals of a few decades ago carbohydrates made up a much higher proportion of their diets. Those leaner people also consumed much less junk food, moved around more, tended to consume more natural foods, and slept more hours each night. Saying that a country’s body weight problem is due to too much or too little of just one food component is too simplistic – it is a bit like saying that traffic problems in our cities are caused by badly synchronized traffic lights and nothing else.
It is true that many carbohydrates present in processed foods and drinks we consume tend to spike glucose and subsequently insulin production, and leave you hungry sooner than natural foods would. The Mediterranean diet of the people in Greece or the island of Corfu, with an abundance of carbohydrates from low GI sources (think pasta, or legumes) plus a normal amount of animal/fish protein, have a much lower impact on insulin requirements and subsequent health problems, compared to any other widespread western diet. Dramatically fluctuating insulin and blood glucose levels can have a long term effect on your eventual risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. However, for good health we do require carbohydrates. Carbohydrates that come from natural unprocessed foods, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and some cereals also contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and key phytonutrients.’
High meat diets may increase the risk of diabetes
Eating more than 120 g (4 oz) a day of red meat, or more than 50 g (1½ oz) a day of processed meat like hamburgers, frankfurter sausages and bacon, may lead to a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes according to a study published in Diabetologia that summarised data from 12 studies from around the globe.
Red meat intake was investigated in 10 of the 12 studies and included a total of 12,226 cases of type 2 diabetes from a total of 433,070 participants. There was a 21% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes for those with the highest compared to the lowest red meat intake. The results of this study are consistent with previous findings of a 35–50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes among vegetarians compared with omnivores.
There are various possible explanations for these findings including the high total and saturated fat content of many red and processed meats which may increase the risk of being overweight or obese; the fact that they are rich in haem-iron which may interfere with glucose metabolism; and the presence of nitrites and nitrates in processed meats which can be converted to nitrosamines which in turn may have toxic effects on the insulin-producing pancreatic beta-cells.
‘The key message from this study,’ says Dr Alan Barclay, ‘is that eating large quantities of red meat, and processed meat, is not necessarily good for your health. Diabetes is a serious condition for the individual and society. Its rapidly increasing global prevalence is a significant cause for concern. It’s currently estimated that around 246 million people worldwide have type 2 diabetes and this figure is expected to rise to 380 million by 2025. The evidence is piling up that high meat diets are not the solution for healthy people or a healthy planet. A moderate consumption of red meat (65–100 g/2–3½ oz of cooked meat), fish (80–120 g/2½–4 oz, cooked), or vegetarian alternatives such as beans, lentils or chickpeas (½ a cup, cooked) each day, is sufficient for most of us and we should limit eating processed meats to just once a week.’
‘I believe most people would like to eat the right amount, if only they knew what that was. My new Plate Smash Game makes you stop and think about how many calories you are putting on your plate for one meal,’ says dietitan Amanda Clark. ‘Go over the right amount and your plate will smash!’