Nutrition Buzzwords, Part 1

There are a lot of buzzwords in nutrition today and sometimes they are confusing. Because I might write a bit, I’m breaking it into two parts. There’s a lot of info out there and I want to give as much info as I can. I will use science based research, and then form my own opinions on them. Please do the same, and we might not agree. And that’s ok too, that’s one of the ways we all keep learning. Plus, these posts aren’t supposed to be political in nature. Please don’t get upset if you politically don’t agree with what I’m saying, I am approaching this scientifically and will not talk politics on here.

One of my biggest gripes today is that it seems like anyone can read a magazine article and they think they are an expert on what everyone should be and shouldn’t be eating. In the professional nutrition world, before something can be accepted, it has to be studied rigorously and have gone through many research studies and peer reviewed in journals. Then, the research can be announced and people can read the research. This is a lengthy process. Somethings that I hear on a day to day basis are not proven in research, they are more opinion based, or based in fear. Fear mongering is something that I hate. People are perpetuating a fear, that is unfounded. Then, the more people say something, the more people think it must be true. So I’m going to try to take the fear out of these nutrition buzzwords below.

Organic– Organic foods are produced with little synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic farmers can use organic pesticides, just not synthetic. The organic farming industry is a regulated industry where the US, and other countries require a special certification in order to market foods as organic. There are organic standards set by our national government (USDA) and other organizations. The organic movement started back in the 40’s and really started to take off in the 1960’s with the Green Revolution. Today, about 70% of Americans buy organic food occasionally and 25%  buy organic each week.

You may have heard of the dirty dozen. These are the 12 fruits/veggies that showed the highest pesticide load. If you an afford organic, here are the 12 to buy

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Hot Peppers

Pro:

  1. Nutrition- Organic foods may have a higher nutritional value due to the fact that in the absence of pesticides/fertilizers, plants  boost their production of phytochemicals (antioxidants)
  2. Less Antibiotics- many animals are given antibiotics to fight infections, even before they are sick. The antibiotics given to animals, are then transferred to our plates, and they are less effective in fighting infections when we get them

Cons:

  1. The cost- food prices will be as much as 50% higher with organic foods

Conclusion: If you can afford to pay the prices of organic food and dairy products, then go for it. If cost is a determining factor on what you can and can’t buy, you are better to buy conventional food, then to go without. For example, if you can’t afford to buy organic strawberries, are you better off skipping them or eating them for the nutritional value they provide? In my opinion, conventional is better than none at all. Interestingly, there were some studies done that showed that organic foods are not safer and healthier than conventional foods. Here are some studies to look at.

-Magkos F et al (2006)-Organic Food: buying more safety or just piece of mind-Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr

-Williams, Christine M (2002)-Nutritional quality of organic food:shades of grey or shades of green-Proceedings of the Nurtition Society

-Dangour AD et al (2009)-Nutritional Quality of organic foods: a systematic review-The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

GMOs-This is a very hot debate right now in the US and around the world. GMO’s are genetically modified organisms, or in other words they are organisms that include one or more genes from another organism such as a bacteria, that give beneficial characteristics to the original organism. There are two sides to this debate, but I feel and fear the majority of people haven’t looked closely enough into the research to clearly understand the issues. I’m not going to say that I am a bio-geneticist or that I have all of the answers, but my goal is to help people to not get caught up in the fear mongering that is occurring today. I’ve read a lot of the negative articles on GM crops, and there is little scientific research given, it’s mostly opinion based.

Pros– There are many advantages that scientists believe GMO’s give us. These include:

  1. Pest resistance-helps eliminate the application of pesticides and reduces the cost of bringing a crop to market
  2. Herbicide tolerance- reduces the amount of herbicides needed, preventing environmental damage,
  3. Disease resistance-plants are susceptible to disease, and the scientists are working towards creating plants that are resistant to the different diseases
  4. Drought tolerance- they are creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought, so that more plants can grow in less than ideal conditions
  5. Adding nutrition-scientists are adding things to rice like Vit.A to help cure some of the world’s deficiencies.

Cons

  1. Reduced effectiveness of pesticides- people are worried that insects will become resistant to GM crops
  2. Gene transfer-the transfer of genes from GM crops into non modified crops
  3. Allergen risks- that introducing a gene into a plant will cause new allergens
  4. Antibiotic resistance-antibiotic resistance genes may transfer into other organisms and contribute to the growing concern of antibiotic resistant organism
  5. Unknown health effects- there has been 20 years of data gathered that has shown there are no long term effects on our health. In the grand scheme of things, 20 years isn’t very long. More research is needed.

Conclusion: Multiple health organizations including WHO, AMA, American Association for the Advancement of Science, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, National Academies of Science all believe that GM crops currently pose little to no health risks to humans. The European Food Safety Authority conducted a study of “A Decade of EU-Funded GMO research” and the data can be seen at efsa.europa.eu. Another study can be seen at ec.europa.eu. There have been many research studies conducted that show that GMO’s don’t post any threat to humans. And a majority of the research that had negative conclusions seem to be done in ethics journals, or I’ve seen articles in newsletters/publications done by small farmers. You can’t trust info given by companies on either side of the debate like Monsanto, or companies hurt by Monsanto, you need to read evidence from studies that are non partisan. If you’re curious, go to pubmed and do your own research. One journal to look at is the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry-Unintended Compositional Changes in GM Crops- 20 years research. Another easy to read site is the University of California-San Diego:20 Questions about GMO Food.

My personal belief is that a lot of the US fear of GMOs comes from the Monsanto’s large business practices. Monsanto has definitely done some questionable practices when it comes to ethics regarding suing small farmers. When Monsanto sells it’s GM seeds to farmers they consider the seeds to be intellectual property and require farmers to buy them each year. Some farmers were reusing the seeds instead of buying more, so Monsanto sued. Monsanto is doing what all big businesses do, trying to make more money. Someone’s dislike of a large corporation shouldn’t extend to a fear of all GM crops.

When it comes to labeling GM food, I do believe that consumers do have a right to know what they are putting in their bodies. On the other hand making companies label all foods created with GM crops would be very costly and would lead consumers to believe that GMs are bad for us (when they haven’t been proven to be). One number I heard was the average person’s grocery bill would rise $400/year if companies were required to label. So, then you might think, just stop creating GM foods and there won’t be a problem. If that happens, all of the pros listed above, plus higher costs of producing foods organically, will occur.

This is my opinion only, but I believe we have to keep doing research and see the long term effects of consuming GM foods. The scientific research right now shows that GM crops are not harmful. We have to believe that organizations and associations that are not being paid by companies like Monsanto, are putting forth accurate research. Some might call me naive, but I believe the WHO and the American Medical Association are trying to put human lives ahead of big business.

If the fear of consuming GM foods has you worried, then your only option is to grow your own food or eat 100% organic. This is time consuming and costly. But, if you are afraid there might be something we see that is negative in the research down the road, then go this route. But let me say again, in the research that I’ve looked at, there are no scientific associations that think GMOs are harmful to our health. I feel like there is a fear mongering around GMO’s and this is what makes me upset. When so many people aren’t even getting a good amount of veggies, fruits and whole grains, etc. into their diets, to add more on top makes it harder for people to make good choices.

And lastly I want to add, if I gave contradictory opinions/evidence, it’s because there is contradictory opinions and evidence out there. Science is always evolving and growing. We’ll keep learning and experimenting and things will change. My hope was to shed some light on some hot topics today, so you had a better understanding of what was being said. Next time we’ll look at the Paleo Diet, gluten free and vegan diets.

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2 thoughts on “Nutrition Buzzwords, Part 1

  1. Thanks Cristina I appreciate the time you took to gather and put this information out there for us. I grow my own veggies from non-GMO seed and buy non-GMO from local farms. I also only buy for me. This is important because when my kids were all still living at home there is no way I could afford this, nor did I have the time to garden with four kids and a full time job either. I too think we’re better off buying what we can afford than going without. Thank you for this good information. It’s a shame the costs are so high but they are what they are and we have choices to make. Having information like this from you only aids us in that process. Mil gracias!

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    • Faith you are definitely one of the healthiest people I know. And with all the training you do, I’m still surprised you have time to garden too. You’re amazing! Hopefully one day we can have a garden too.

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