Live Well
local_before_organic
December 2013

Local Before Organic

People are often surprised when I tell them that I prefer to buy local over organic produce. Ideally, I would like to purchase produce that is organic and produced locally but, if that’s not possible, I will generally choose the local farm over going to the supermarket to buy organic. Here’s why:

  1. It helps support the local economy.
    Many local farms are small and while they may not be certified organic (a process which can be quite costly), they often commit to the Farmer’s Pledge whereby they employ growing techniques that are similar or better to organic ones, and don’t degrade the soil. I feel better supporting local businesses.
  2. It’s better for the environment.
    Many organic farms have now become large-scale industrial operations and, while they may use organic pesticides and fertilizers, they still have to use a lot of chemicals on the produce. In addition, their intensive farming methods tend to deplete and degrade the soil, which, in the long run, is not very sustainable. Purchasing foods from local farms helps us support sustainable farming methods and reduces our carbon footprint because we are not getting foods from across the country or the globe.
  3. It’s healthier.
    Small, local farmers take great pride in what they produce, and make sure that the product we get is the most delicious. Small farms have a vested interest in keeping the soil healthy so they can continue to produce foods. Also, because it doesn’t take as long for products to get from the farms to our kitchens, we are getting the freshest, tastiest product available. As soon as a plant or fruit is harvested, it begins to lose important vitamins and minerals, so the closer your food comes from, the more phytonutrients (plant nutrients), vitamins and minerals it contains.

While local products may not come with all the certifications that organic farms do, they are still committed to providing the best produce and to growing food in a way that is sustainable for the environment. That’s the kind of energy that I want in the foods that I eat!

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Worthwhile
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Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD

Following the trend of books highlighting the many detrimental effects grains, and wheat in particular, have on our health, Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD, addresses the effects of grains on our brain. Perlmutter asserts that our carbohydrate-rich diet is causing the inflammation that is at the root of all the health epidemics we face, from diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease. As he states, “Researchers have known for some time now that the cornerstone of all degenerative conditions, including brain disorders is inflammation…And what they are finding is that gluten, and a high-carbohydrate diet for that matter, are among the most prominent stimulators of inflammatory pathways that reach the brain.” (p.33)

To counteract this inflammation, Perlmutter argues that we need to go back to eating a diet similar to what our Paleolithic ancestors ate. Their diet consisted of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates, versus the 20% fat, 20% protein and 60% carbohydrates in our diet today. This is an argument that has been made often and many people have said that they feel better when they eat a diet rich in fats and proteins. And, when it comes to our bodies, fats are very important. According to Perlmutter, our brains consist of over 70% fat. Not only do fats insulate our bodies from extreme temperatures, but they are also our largest reserve of stored energy. Fats also help regulate our immune system because important vitamins that support our immune system are only absorbable with fats (vitamins A, D, E, and K). And fats support healthy cell membranes. Perlmutter recommends a four-week action plan to get rid of our “grain brain.”

While I agree with most of what Perlmutter says in his book, I do believe that everyone has a different tolerance for grains and carbohydrates depending on their ancestry and the environment in which they live. I don’t think that we can “prescribe” the same diet for everyone. I also think that the culprit in brain and other inflammatory diseases is not necessarily the grains, but mostly the sugar. Our diets are high in sugar from starches and refined carbohydrates (such as white flour, white pasta, white rice). I feel that those are the foods that are causing the excessive inflammation in our body, not necessarily the complex carbohydrates rich in fiber (specifically, fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice). I also think we need to be careful about the fats that we eat. We want to make sure that we eat healthy fats (from extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, and oils from nuts and seeds), and fats rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Perlmutter’s thesis is not new and echoes some of what William Davis, MD wrote in his book Wheat Belly. Both argue that our high-carbohydrate diet is causing inflammatory conditions that are detrimental to our health. Perlmutter makes a very interesting and valid argument about the need to reduce sugars, starches and simple carbohydrates from our diets. These are causing many of the inflammatory conditions that are rampant today, including many brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or even autism. We, as individuals, need to be more mindful of how we nourish ourselves if we want to remain healthy. Proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in supporting our health.