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Nutrition

Are Organic Foods Healthier Than Conventional Foods?

Proper nutrition will be a debated topic for years to come and we may never know the exact answer to what foods and diets are best.  One of the hotly debated topics is the consumption of organic vs. non-organic food; if there is a difference and if it is worth your few extra dollars.  In this guest post, Chris and Eric Martinez of Dynamic Duo Training lay out their ideas about the subject complete with studies to support what they believe.  Check out the article below and make your own conclusions

-Doug

Are Organic Foods Healthier Than Conventional Foods?

By Chris and Eric Martinez of Dynamic Duo Training

This ongoing debate about which is healthier for you “organic or conventional foods,” has gotten out of hand.  In this article we will discuss some hot new research that just came out regarding “organic” foods, USDA legal standards on organic foods, why “organic” isn’t that sexy, some potential sexiness to “organic foods,” and our thoughts on all of this.

Hot and Sexy New Research

New research by Stanford University scientists have weighed in on the “maybe not” so sexy side of the debate after an extensive examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods. They concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be a lot less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria’s. The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.

Organic Veggies

The researchers did find that conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits at levels that it says do not harm humans. In the study, researchers combined data from 237 studies, examining a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. For four years, they performed statistical analyses looking for signs of health benefits from adding organic foods to the diet.

USDA Legal Standards for Organic Foods

Let’s start off with the USDA Legal Standard for “Organic Certification.”  The Requirements generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:

  • No human sewage sludge fertilizer used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals.
  • Avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (i.e., fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, ect), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of biosolids.
  • Use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (usually three or more).
  • Keeping detailed written production and sales records.
  • Maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products.
  • Undergoing periodic on-site inspections.

Now let’s look at the USDA legal standard for “Organic Food.” The following are the requirements:

  • Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods also do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irridation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
  • If livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine of antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • In the United States, a food can be labeled as “organic” if it contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.

USDA Organic

Why “organic” isn’t that sexy

Basically the biggest argument about organic vs. conventional food has been that organic is healthier, more nutrient dense, and therefore can do wonders to your health and possibly grow bigger muscles. But, there has always been skepticism because there has never really been any data proving this and not to mention organic is more expensive. But to be 100% clear, there is no data on the influence of organic foods on exercise performance, no data on the influence of organic foods on inducing muscle mass, nor is there any data on the influence of organic foods on the health status of athletes.

A 2009 study by Dangour et al. Showed there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally food products. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and most relate to differences in production methods. A 2012 study by Dangour et al. proved that evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foods.

In 2005, Deakin University, Australia, mailed a random questionnaire to 500 adults (58% responded). The majority of the participants believed that organic was healthier, tastier, and better for the environment than conventional food. So it seems that with all of this lack of data, consumers still believe that “organic” is better, and what it really comes down to is their personal values.

Some potential sexiness to “organic foods”

Okay so time to back off of all the organic bashing and focus on some interesting points when it comes to the benefits of buying organic. The Stanford University researchers noted a couple of studies that showed that children who ate organic produce had fewer pesticide traces in their urine. They also found that organic meat contained considerably lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised animals did, but bacteria, antibiotic-resistant or otherwise, would be killed during cooking.

There are some other findings that are showing that consumers buy organic because of the motivation to reduce exposure to pesticides, especially for pregnant women and their young children. Three studies published last year, by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan identified pregnant women exposed to higher amounts of pesticides known as organophosphates would then follow their children for years. In elementary school, those children had, on average, I.Q.’s several points lower than those of their peers.

To add to this research by Crinnion Wj showed that organic foods have lower levels of insecticides and there’s clear evidence that indicates reduced pesticide exposure levels in consumers of organic foods.

Wrapping this up

Not everyone can access or afford buying organic or from local farmers, so be realistic and eat what you can afford and have access to. There is no data on the influence of organic foods on exercise performance, no data on the influence of organic foods on inducing muscle mass, nor is there any data on the influence of organic foods on the health status of athletes. What all of this really seems to boil down to are everyone’s personal values and biased opinions. So, with all of this said make an educated decision off the data we presented to you.

References:

Dangour et al. Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. AJCN 2009.

Dangour et al. Nutrition-Related Health Effects of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. AJCN 2012.

Crinnion Wj. Organic Foods Contain Higher Levels of Certain Nutrients, Lower Levels of Pesticides, and May Provide Health Benefits for the Consumer.

Lea E and Worsley A. Australian’s organic food beliefs, demographics and values. Br Food J 2005.

Chang, Kenneth. “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce.” New York Times. 3 Sept. 2012.

Kleiner, Susan. “Power Eating Clean.”  ISSN. 2012.

About the Authors:

DDTChris and Eric Martinez, CISSN, CSCS, CPT, BA, also known as the “Dynamic Duo” operate a world class online training and nutrition consulting business “Dynamic Duo Training.” They’re also fitness and nutrition writers, Diet Doc permanent weight loss coaches, and exclusive Team K Peaking Directors that love helping people reach their goals.

 

 

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Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 Nutrition 2 Comments

Should You Supplement: Probiotics for a Healthy Gut?

In the spirit of another Easter Sunday coming and going this past month, I have decided to resurrect my Should You Supplement nutritional series.  These articles are getting progressively more difficult to write since I have tapered my supplement use over the years.  Nowadays I am trying only to use, what I believe, are the essentials that I am not completely obtaining through my diet and what I use has to be safe for consumption with no potentially harmful ingredients, side effects or ill effects if taken in too high a dose.

I have always primarily advocated establishing a diet from a wide variety of healthy whole foods first before considering the need to supplement.  As we know the world does not spin perfectly and neither do our actions.  Vacations, dining out and the occasional junk food pangs can leave us needing more foundational nutrients than we are consuming and proper supplementation can help.

It is difficult to know exactly how much solid nutrition we are obtaining from our food, even if we eat healthy, buy organic and balance our fats, carbohydrates and protein.  Like our daily lives, daily changes occur from the amount of work we do, the amount of sleep we get, the amount of weight lifted and the amount of nutritionally dense food consumed.

Supplements are just that; supplements.  They should be seen not to replace anything you decide to avoid consuming; rather they should be used as an insurance policy to assist your healthy lifestyle and build up a healthy reserve for days that you cannot eat optimally.

By clicking on these links, you can find out more about the supplements I use as my insurance policy ranging from essential fats that are frequently missing in our diets, a little extra vitamin C  for immunity and cell growth, nutrient dense, whole food based multi-vitamins and even some muscle building BCAAs.

Should I Even be Concerned with Gut Health?

The gut consists of the intestinal digestive tract where a majority of digestion and absorption of nutrients occur.  The digestive tract consists of good bacteria or flora consisting of about 100 trillion microorganisms which is about 10 times the amount of cells in the human body.

Gut Health

With that amount of flora in the human gut its function is highly important in digestion and proper health balance of the body.  Keeping these flora levels optimal can be difficult to maintain.

These bacterial microorganisms are essential for a number of healthy processes within the body including:

  • Fermenting unused energy substrates
  • Enhancing the immune system
  • Preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria
  • Regulating the development of vitamins and hormones

Maintaining these good microorganisms is not an easy task.  Natural processes of digestion including the use of digestive acids and enzymes can reduce the good flora in the gut. Illnesses further decrease the amount of gut flora due to inflammation.  Taking medication and antibiotics also reduce the amount of good flora in the body.  Heavy metals and artificial ingredients found in our foods also reduce the amount of gut flora.  If this number gets too low or creates an imbalance, digestion will be compromised and eventually problems may occur that can lead to inflammation of the gut, illness and even chronic disease.

Chronically high levels of inflammation due to compromised digestive health may cause swelling and pain and damage tissues.  Diseases including Psoriasis, Ulcerative Colitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are all disease in which inflammation is thought to play a role.

Benefits of Probiotic Supplementation

Probiotics are supplement form of good bacteria and have shown to have health benefits.

There are several studies touting the positive effects that probiotics significantly reduce inflammation in the human body compared to a placebo. It has also shown to be effective against ulcerative colitis and also has helped patients who are on antibiotics when they were taken before their antibiotic treatment.  The probiotic supplementation reduced the risk of developing antibiotic-associated diarrhea by about 60 percent.

Proper digestive health begins in the mouth and many of Americans suffer from oral health issues with one of the biggest being bleeding and inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria.  This is also known as Gingivitis.  Taking a probiotic supplement has shown to reduce inflammation in the mouth and decrease the effects of Gingivitis.

Conclusion: Should You Consider Using a Probiotic?

There are plenty of studies and support out there which provide some conclusions that probiotic supplementation is best for people who have issues with their digestive system due to poor diets, illness, chronic disease or taking medication that eliminates the good bacteria in the gut.

My typical approach is to first make sure that I have my diet in check and consume foods that have high levels of probiotics.  Many dairy products primarily yogurt, mike and cheese are full of healthy bacteria.  If dairy does not agree with you or you are looking for an alternative try various fermented foods including sauerkraut and pickles.  Of course you want to get these foods in their least processed state to get the highest health benefits out of these foods.

fermented foods

When these foods are not enough and I am sick, traveling or not digesting well due to the Super Burrito I had on a Saturday night, I like to aid my healing with a probiotic supplement and my supplement brand of choice is Jarrow Brands Jarro-Dophilus® + FOS

Jarrow Dophilius

I do not use this supplement daily but when I am in a pinch I have found it very helpful in getting my digestive tract back to normal quickly.

References:

Gutsense.org

NBC News: Probiotics Do Ease Gut Problems, Several Studies Show

Nutra Ingredients USA

Wikipedia/Gut Flora

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Monday, April 29th, 2013 Nutrition No Comments

Concern for Calories?

Some of the greatest debates in our world revolve around several epic topics; religion, politics and nutrition.  Though I have some opinions about the former two, I will not be discussing either, rather I will stick to one closer in my field of health and wellness and discuss a common subtopic in the area of nutrition.

It would be difficult to avoid a day without hearing some reference towards the amount of calories a particular item of food or a meal has.  You hear it all the time, “Man I shouldn’t have eaten that bagel it has about 300 calories” or one of my favorites comes right out of those commercials we are bombarded with daily, “Try our new Pop Tarts lite with only 100 calories per serving.”  We are meant to believe that our bodies operate on a series of binary codes and complex algorithms.  That somehow our bodies internally crunch the caloric numbers we consume and simply use the exact number we need while either eliminating or storing the excess.

Wouldn’t this be nice if it were all that simple?  We would just magically know our personal number that corresponds to the number of calories we should consume on a given day to lose, maintain, or gain weight.  With the number of people struggling to understand this concept maybe calories are not necessarily as simplistic a formula as they are made out to be, nor should they be completely ignored when consuming meals.

To begin with, we have to think about the food we eat in a few different ways; first off there is food for fuel for our bodies and food to build or break down our bodies.  We not only run on everything we put into our guts but we also use those nutrients as the raw materials to build all of the cells in our bodies.

We need to put the all calories are equal to rest.  Like one of my favorite nutritionists, Dr. Eric Serrano, likes to mention, “100 calories of Lucky Charms is not the same as 100 calories of broccoli.”  The focus here should not be on the quantity butrather the quality of those 100 calories that are going into our bodies.  After all, would you want cells made from Lucky Charms or broccoli?

Here is a little scientific research to support the above point; a study done in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that, “Certain foods and diets may be better than others for burning calories and helping people maintain weight loss.”  The subjects agreed to follow low-fat, very-low-carb, and low-glycemic-index diets for a month each.  Although all of the participants ate the same number of calories on each of the three plans, results showed that the study participants burned about 300 calories a day less on the low-fat eating plan than they did on the very-low-carbohydrate one.

The very-low-carb plan and the low-glycemic-index plan which included a variety of high fiber and minimally processed foods resulted in better insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels.  The researchers also concluded that very-low-fat diets may actually slow down a person’s metabolism to a level where it is not burning calories as effectively as it could.

Understanding that not all calories are equal may not give us free rein to go out and eat as much healthy food as we can without concern for the total number of calories consumed.  Our bodies do have a limit and operate on a sliding scale dependant on several factors including exercise, goals, age, current hormonal state and the list can go on and on.  There should be some concern with the number of calories the body needs for fuel and cell repair.

Calorie counting is not going to be an exact science and it will fluctuate with reasons stated above.  Weighing your food daily and calculating the gram for each macro nutrient might be a little excessive.  However, it may be more important to keep your total caloric intake within a specific range (assuming of course you calories are coming from excellent food sources).

Another one of my go to nutritionists is Nate Miyaki who does not only touts clean eating but proper caloric intake to meet the individual’s goals.  Sounds like a lot of math, however this is why I like Nate so much, he likes to keep things real simple.  His formulas are the following based on the individual’s goals:

Lose Fat                                             10-12 calories/lb of bodyweight

Maintain/Body Recomposition              13-15 calories/lb of bodyweight

Build Muscle                                       16+ calories/lb of bodyweight

A simple example would be for a 185 lb active male who is looking to maintain their muscle mass and weight while decreasing their body fat percentage should consume about 2,400-2,775 calories per day consisting of good clean foods.

Seems simple enough: know your goal, have an idea about which foods your should consume, then approximate calories in a serving and with a little trial and error you can fine tune the right diet that you need to maintain and constantly achieve the personal result you desire.

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Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 Nutrition No Comments
 

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