A few weeks ago, I observed a good friend of mine preparing an area of his very small townhome yard for gardening. I was pleasantly surprised when he informed me that his intentions were not to grow flowers, but vegetables. I greatly applauded his efforts and this is why: By growing his own food source naturally, he has reduced his exposure/consumption to genetically modified organisms, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
All three have been linked with clear evidence to cancer, thyroid problems, auto-immune disorders, hormone imbalances and sterility, multiple food and other allergy sensitivities, heavy metal toxicity, and celiac disease. Compared to rest of the U.S., I have been astounded at how many of my patients have these problems.
Genetically modified plants, chemical fertilizers and pesticides were NOT designed with our health in mind – they were designed to help crops be resistant to pests, and thus produce greater yield crops. They contain fewer nutrients than organically grown foods. The discussion of how these substances affect the body are worthy of their own articles but for this article, I would like to focus on the solution to the problem. I.e., how can one find sources of food that is alive, nutritious, healthy, and safe to consume?
#1 Wherever the vegetable comes from – go raw as often as you can. The FDA calls fresh, unheated fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds “superfoods”. They are right. But beyond a salad, how does one eat raw? I admit eating a salad every day can get boring. Fortunately, there are some talented chefs who sell easy-to-prepare cookbooks that taste so good that we WANT to consume more raw foods! My challenge to us all is to invest in one of these books (or borrow from the library) and prepare a new raw food dish once a week.
#2 Go Mediterranean, locally and hormone/antibiotic free! The evidence is clear, that people who follow a Mediterranean style diet have less diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet promotes eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids – olive oil, coconut oil, fatty cold-water fish (salmon and tuna), nuts, flaxseed, and lots of green vegetables. Vegetables and protein should comprise 85% of your daily intake, complex grains 15%. Fortunately, we have a plethora of free-range, organically, hormone and antibiotic free ranches that sell healthy and tasty beef, goat, and chickens. Game meats – deer, elk, moose, and caribou are wonderful choices and the exercise in hunting them is another health benefit! For those who suspect or know they are grain/gluten sensitive – Go Paleo (Mediterranean without the grains). For either diet, the internet, library, and local bookstore are great resources to learn more.
#3 Buy local! I believe many people have the perception that locally grown food costs more. I have been surprised at how similar the prices at our local health food store have been to our chain grocery stores. With that said, I am very aware that our local choices do cost more on average. As a health care provider, I look at it as an upfront cost to one’s health that WILL save you money in the end. By investing in your health by paying a little more for healthier food, I can promise you three things: 1) you will save money in the long run by not developing – or greatly reducing your risk of – an expensive illness such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes; 2) your quality of life will be better by not being sick; and 3) how you eat/prepare food, thus teaching your children, will make them a healthier individual as well.
To help prioritize what should be ALWAYS purchased organic and where can a few dollars be saved by not buying organic, here is a list of the top 12 “dirty and clean dozen”: The “dirty dozen”, i.e. highest in pesticides of the most toxic includes (nonorganic): apples, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherries, imported grapes, kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, and strawberries. If one has to pick and choose what to buy organic (or not), these should be on your organic list. The “clean dozen”, i.e. lowest in pesticides and therefore safer to buy nonorganic varieties, includes: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, eggplant, kiwis, mangoes, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet corn, sweet peas, and watermelon.
#4 Consider growing your own garden, even it is a tiny one. I grew up on a farm, and as an adult, nothing brings me as much joy as the process of cultivating the soil and watching a seed (or starter) grow and yield food that I can eat, and share with my family and community. Children love growing things, too! And one does not have to have their own backyard/field to grow food. Containers or pots on the deck can yield tomatoes, squash, cucumber, lettuce, and greens quite well. Some communities also have community gardens that one can become involved in.
Remember, every little bit we can do here and there will reduce our need to purchase modified and chemically-grown foods to meet our nutritional needs. But if you can’t grow your own, where can you educate yourself or find local organic sources?
Fortunately, we live in an area where many farmers possess the mission and dream of providing their community with affordable, sustainable and healthy food. Here are a few local resources to learn more:
1) Durango Farmer’s Market – The Durango Farmers Market is a venue for local agriculturalists and artisans to meet to share their harvests and talents with the Durango Community. Their website is http://www.durangofarmersmarket.org
2) The Cortez Farmer’s Market – a link of vendors who participate and more information can be found at http://www.cortezfarmmarket.com/vendor.html;
3) Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado – they provide a local foods resource listing. Their website is http://www.sustainableswcolorado.org/food_initiatives; and
4) Healthy Lifestyle La Plata – their mission is to empower and support an interconnected community where citizens and visitors have access to affordable, local, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. Their website is http://www.healthylifestylelaplata.org/.
Renae Blanton, MSN, ANP is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Sonas Integrative Medical Center. She specializes in integrative family medicine with a focus on environmental issues such as lead toxicity, anti-aging, women’s health and chronic disease and illness. She can be reached at 970-247-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.