Are organic and grassfed important? Or just expensive?
August 3, 2017 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm having a lifestyle change so I can (please gods!) get off some of the 28 prescription medications I currently take. I've got the what to eat part figured out. The "what kind" part has me a little confused. How important are organic produce and grass-fed or grain-fed or organic meats as opposed to their "regular" counterparts?
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The dirty dozen and clean fifteen:
“The Dirty Dozen” list includes:

celery
peaches
strawberries
apples
domestic blueberries
nectarines
sweet bell peppers
spinach, kale and collard greens
cherries
potatoes
imported grapes
lettuce

All the produce on “The Clean 15” bore little to no traces of pesticides, and is safe to consume in non-organic form. This list includes:

onions
avocados
sweet corn
pineapples
mango
sweet peas
asparagus
kiwi fruit
cabbage
eggplant
cantaloupe
watermelon
grapefruit
sweet potatoes
sweet onions
posted by aniola at 1:20 PM on August 3, 2017 [17 favorites]


Whether or not you eat organic food is almost certainly irrelevant to your health conditions. Grass-fed beef has a better fatty acid ratio than grain-fed, but the vast majority of your health improvement with better diet comes from changes in calorie intake and macronutrients (fat, protein, carb) than from the marginal benefits brought about by organic status or grass-fed/pastured meat.

Give yourself fewer things to worry about, especially if you're making big changes to your diet and dealing with many medications.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:37 PM on August 3, 2017 [34 favorites]


Organic probably does not make a difference. Local and pasture-raised might make a SMALL difference - more nutritious varieties and breeds, grown with more care, making it to your table in better condition. And eating flavorful, seasonal local foods is pleasurable and likely to make you more excited about eating well.

If you can afford it, I would still encourage you to eat as much local / organic / pesticide-free food as you can, because it's often better for small farmers, animal welfare, and the environment. But I believe a non-organic diet can still be perfectly healthy.

(Source: I briefly co-owned a small produce farm and have spent a lot of time hanging out with small farmers. I am also aware of how much nonsense circulates about the health benefits of organic / non-GMO food.)
posted by toastedcheese at 1:45 PM on August 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


It really depends on what you are looking for. The health benefits of grass fed and/or organic red meat are debatable, though the meat is generally leaner and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. I also think free range animals taste better.

The bigger benefits are environmental and societal. Conventionally raised meat, especially beef, has enormous impacts in both the short term (nutrient overload in ground and surface water, toxic algae), medium term (soil erosion and degradation from row crops) and long term (climate change). If you are going to base your diet on meats, it is probably worth it to at least consider those impacts.

There are also the various ethical considerations with the differences between a free range animal and one that grows up in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) environment. No one can ask the cows, but they do appear happier in a pasture than in a feedlot.

Finally, it can actually be cheaper to buy a whole or half animal that is free range and/or organic than buying conventional meat at the grocery store. The flip side is that you need to have the lump sum to buy half a cow, and have a place to store it.
posted by rockindata at 1:46 PM on August 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


If you can afford it, I would still encourage you to eat as much local / organic / pesticide-free food as you can, because it's often better for small farmers, animal welfare, and the environment. But I believe a non-organic diet can still be perfectly healthy.
QFT. I'd go so far as to say that local but conventional is arguably a better choice than trucked-in and organic. But, to reiterate, these are mostly choices we make about food quality and freshness and environmental impact, not health.

That said, the veggies we get from our local share are WAY fresher than anything in a store, which is nice. But that advantage starts ticking away if you don't use them promptly, and I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to do with all this goddamn eggplant.
posted by uberchet at 2:03 PM on August 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


The bigger benefits are environmental and societal. Conventionally raised meat, especially beef, has enormous impacts in both the short term (nutrient overload in ground and surface water, toxic algae), medium term (soil erosion and degradation from row crops) and long term (climate change). If you are going to base your diet on meats, it is probably worth it to at least consider those impacts.

Grass-fed beef is actually worse for the environment. See this Mother Jones article. Whether grass-fed is better for you is debatable, but there is no environmentally friendly way to eat beef, so that doesn't need to factor into your decision.
posted by FencingGal at 2:08 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


We fight about this periodically here, but I am here to tell you one thing for sure: everything that is a fruit or vegetable that is organic tastes worlds better to me. Also you definitely want to skip non-organic fruits and veggies that are on the "dirty" list cited above, as they especially absorb pesticides.

As for grass fed, that's generally one of the several things I consider on the rare occasions I eat meat. I also look at whether the meat was raised and killed in humane conditions. There is a lot of information about how brutal the factory farming system is to animals, as well as the people who work in places like the slaughter houses. The Omnivore's Dilemma discusses this, among other good sources. Besides helping my conscience, I find that locally, humanely raised and killed, pasture fed meat is much, much tastier.

Re grain fed, I avoid that for all things, including eggs. It is just another way of saying "corn fed," usually. And that isn't a good thing. As Pollan points out in Omnivore's Dilemma, at bottom a great deal of the factory farm produced food in the US is basically corn. Re eggs, I look for pasture raised hens that actually get to eat what they like (like insects and worms), because the eggs they produce are splendidly tasty with gorgeous orange yolks.

In addition to taste and pesticide/corn overload avoidance, another great reason to watch the sourcing of your veg, fruit, meat and eggs is to stop supporting the anti-labor, disgustingly cruel, and environmentally destructive effects of the factory farm system.
posted by bearwife at 2:13 PM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Oh, and one more thing: I really, really recommend you take a look at Dr. Fuhrman's book, Eat to Live, if you want to shed your prescription meds. It's a very effective and clean food based diet. I dropped more than 50 points on my cholesterol reading after 6 weeks eating that way, as an example.
posted by bearwife at 2:17 PM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Hi- MeMailed you!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:20 PM on August 3, 2017


Organic certification is often too expensive or difficult for small farmers but they may very well stick to organic methods.
Organic is better for the soil, the air, the water and the farmers and workers. I realized how important this is when my daughter worked on a farm.
Organic food wasn't originally promoted for having more nutrients but for not having potentially harmful pesticide residues. Disproving the nutritional benefits is a straw man.
Uberchet: Baba ghanouj is a most delicious eggplant dish. Roast the eggplant, skin and chop until mushy, add garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt. top with olive oil and parsley.
posted by Botanizer at 2:21 PM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


There is skepticism about the Environmental Working Group and their "dirty" versus "clean" designations.
posted by lakeroon at 2:52 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


Grass-fed beef is actually worse for the environment. See this Mother Jones article.

That article quotes a researcher - heres the full quote (from the interview):
People often have the perception that grass-fed beef must be better for the environment, yet it’s a system in which cattle grow more slowly and are slaughtered at a lower live-weight. For example, if we switched to all grass-fed beef in the United States, it would require an additional 64.6 million cows, 131 million acres more land, and 135 million more tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. We’d have the same amount of beef, but with a huge environmental cost.

That makes a pretty unconvincing case, once we strip away some assumptions. Sure, if we got rid of corn-fed/industrial beef production, but produced the same net amount of beef (not cows) it would increase greenhouse gas emissions. the article that includes the quote concludes that our current levels of meat production are unsustainable, but instead of viewing grass fed as an impediment to maintaining our current levels of beef production, one could easily look at switching to grass feed as a mechanism for reducing the amount of beef produced (because it is harder to make the same amount as before without grain feed).

None of this is helpful in answering the question facing you as an individual consumer - between a package of grass fed or grain fed beef which has had a larger net impact on the environment?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:55 PM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


It seems from previous questions that you have gastroparesis among other chronic health concerns? I would be way less concerned about eating organics than with finding the kind of foods that work for your health conditions, IMHO. Since the evidence is unclear whether organics have any tangible health benefits, it just seems like something else to worry about.
posted by noxperpetua at 3:08 PM on August 3, 2017


Everyone is talking about organic but can we have a definition of terms please?
posted by conifer at 4:07 PM on August 3, 2017


I recommend local over organic any day, just for taste alone. There is a huge quality difference between zucchinis picked today by the farmer at my local farmers market and the one that was picked early, that sat on a truck for two weeks and then made it to my grocery store. The more delicious the fruits/veggies, the more likely you are to eat them and stick to a health conscious diet.

Most farmers market produce is essentially organic anyway, but as noted above the certifications can be expensive. Plus farmers markets tend to be cheaper than Whole Foods. (But really, what isn't?)
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 4:59 PM on August 3, 2017


Organic certification is often too expensive or difficult for small farmers but they may very well stick to organic methods.
Organic is better for the soil, the air, the water and the farmers and workers. I realized how important this is when my daughter worked on a farm.
Organic food wasn't originally promoted for having more nutrients but for not having potentially harmful pesticide residues. Disproving the nutritional benefits is a straw man.
Uberchet: Baba ghanouj is a most delicious eggplant dish. Roast the eggplant, skin and chop until mushy, add garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt. top with olive oil and parsley.


So, those things you mention are certainly the intent of organic farming, but in fact many organic farms use more pesticides than a non-organic farm, and despite the fact that those pesticides are "certified organic" they may actually be as dangerous or more dangerous than a comparable synthetic pesticides. So, the idea that organic fruits and vegetables would somehow automatically be better for your health is dubious at best.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:09 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Everyone is talking about organic but can we have a definition of terms please?

Here ya go.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:10 PM on August 3, 2017


Last post I swear. This SciAm article has a good overview of the dubious claims (similar to the ones espoused by other MeFites above) about organic vs conventional farming.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:14 PM on August 3, 2017


there is no environmentally friendly way to eat beef

I agree. Beef is expensive, inefficient and destroys the environment, whether or not it is grass fed. I am using common sense, not statistics, to stand behind that statement: a cow eats the grains a person could be eating. The more cows, the less space and resources to produce food that goes directly into humans.

Before I stopped eating meat altogether I only ate organic meat. I found it had a better consistency when cooked and I felt good about eating something that hadn't been tortured.

I cannot supply sources, but I am a firm believer that if you do eat meat and it has been factory farmed or raised in inhumane conditions, you are eating its suffering as well. By that I do not mean mystical "woo" but actual stress hormones and other such changes stress induces in a living creature. I just cannot believe that eating the flesh of an animal kept immobile until slaughter, or debeaked, or some other such monstrosity, has no measurable difference to the health of the person eating it.

So if you eat meat, eat organic. I second reading Eat to Live. It is not what got me to stop eating meat, but it has some very useful methods to improve one's diet, and in a way that doesn't starve the reader.
posted by Crystal Fox at 5:31 PM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't worry too much about eating organic for health reasons, but if you have space for a garden (or even to grow something like a planter of strawberries) I think there's evidence that produce has the most nutrition the same day it's picked. And as someone said above, it also tastes better, especially immediately off the plant.
posted by pinochiette at 7:19 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Gastroparesis was suspected on upper endoscopy but dismissed after specifically testing for it.

I have a few local-ish farms (within an hour's drive) that I'd be looking into for grass-fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chicken, and pastured eggs. A couple of them also have produce, and one even has CSAs for produce.

I'm much happier supporting a local farmer than giving money to Kroger or Walmart. Because I'm an insatiable learner with severe OCD, I'll probably be spending a couple hours at Whole Foods, an hour away, and Trader Joe's, also an hour away, to see how their offerings compare to Kroger and the farmers. (I spent about 3 hours at Kroger, studying produce, meats, and seafood from one end of the store to the other.)

Thank you all for your interesting replies and references to additional sources.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 8:28 PM on August 3, 2017


Again, you're not asking about environmental impact, but if you are concerned about the environmental impact of beef - you want *rotationally grazed* pastured beef.

Ask your local farmer and they can tell you if they rotationally graze (good) or supplement with hay (not so good).
posted by toastedcheese at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2017


Since several people have mentioned Eat to Live, I just want to say that it can be really overwhelming and, if you want to follow the program, you can ease into it rather than doing it all at once. The author, Dr. Fuhrman, has a bunch of hour-long talks on youtube, so you might want to listen to him and see if what he says resonates with you. If you do like what he says, I would also recommend his book "Super Immunity."

Also, since it's not really clear whether organic is much better, you might want to think about what is going to stress you out the most. For instance, if having to think about organic is a huge stress for you, that could be detrimental to your health. Similarly, if worrying about not eating organic is stressful, it might be better to go with organic. I think it's really easy to underestimate the effect of stress on health.
posted by FencingGal at 7:44 AM on August 4, 2017


I just dropped back in to second that when I say organic fruit/veg tastes worlds better to me, my buys are of local organic produce, not organic stuff shipped in from far away. I also buy local eggs and, on the few occasions I eat it, local meat. Good routes for some of this are local farmer's markets and CSAs. And to me, it is organic enough if the farmer eschews pesticides and non natural chemical fertilizers. I don't need a certification.

I will also add as to Dr. Fuhrman that a good approach to his eating style is to read up, listen to his lectures, think on it, and then dive in for a 6 week immersion.
posted by bearwife at 12:49 PM on August 4, 2017


This excellent podcast episode titled 'Science Vs: Organic Food' may be helpful.
posted by bq at 6:54 PM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


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