Eating Organic: Does It Help Weight Loss? Can You Do It Without Going Broke?

In this recent post I discussed some of the reasons I thought that I am now losing weight. For some time I got nowhere, but now I seem to be on the road of serious weight loss. I tried to outline some of the changes I made, but I left one out: I have been trying to eat less processed food and more organic food.

Could that be assisting me in weight loss?

And another, very serious question in these ecomonic times: can I do it without going broke?

Organic Foods and Weight Loss

As you might have noticed if you have read my postings with any frequency, I am fairly skeptical of most research, and even question most of my own conclusions from time to time. This makes me fairly inconsistant, which annoys many, but I am OK with. Someone said that a person who is proud of his consistancy is proud of learning nothing over time – I’ve always thought that you need to consider all your conclusions as assumptions, and periodically challenge those assumptions.

Let’s start by revisiting some dismal research that has a very good chance to be correct, because of the type of conclusion it comes to. This research shows that calore restriction can increase longevity and improve health. I have a greater faith in this conclusion than a lot of other research because it’s a relatively easy question to test for: take a rat and feed him at a near-starvation levels, and you find they tend to live a lot longer. Here’s a chart from CalorieRestriction.org that shows the relatively short lifespans of the well-fed rats, vs. the deprived vermin:

Shoot Me Now: Near-Starvation Leads to Longer Life

Shoot Me Now: Near-Starvation Leads to Longer Life

The problem with this research is: the conclusions from it just plain suck. No one wants to add more than a third to their lifespan by living in perpetual hunger and the resultant misery.

But perhaps there is another angle to this.

It’s a known fact that Americans have been steadily upping their calorie count over the years – might it be because the food we eat doesn’t have enough nutrients? I was recently reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and came across an interesting speculation: we overeat not because we are gluttons with no willpower, but rather because our foods are so barren of the nutrients our body craves that we continue to consume – our bodies engaged in a futile attempt to obtain what it lacks.

Michael Pollan’s book goes on to discuss that processed food is always barren of nutrients both known and unknown. Processors can always throw in cheap synthetic vitamins and minerals that have known to be stripped out, but they can’t put back the ones that science has yet to recognize as valuable.

Perhaps there is a matrix – a delicate balance of nutrients that exists in nature that defies our current understanding, and processing removes this.

As Michael Pollan wrote: Perhaps we’re overfed and starving at the same time.

It gets worse: even whole foods have been robbed of their nutrients. Anthony Colpo in his book The Great Cholesterol Con (as well as Michael Pollan in his) discussed the fact that our modern industrial farms have soil so depleted of nutrients that an apple today has way fewer nutrients in it than an apple from 100 years ago. This goes for anything grown today.

So take that nutrient-depleted potato, process the hell out of it, stripping away any real nutrient value left, turn it into instant potato flakes, throw in some cheap synthetic vitamins to replace the ones you stripped out, put ‘Made From Real Potatoes’ on the label, and you have something that tricks you into believing its potatoes. Your body’s not fooled however – it wants a second helping to try and obtain the nutrients it thought it was going to get when it ate the first portion.

So this brings us to the notion of organic. In the plant kingdom, crops produced using organic techniques and rules is about as close as you can get to the apples that great-grandpa ate. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is prohibited, resulting in smaller, sometimes gnarly-looking fruit and produce. It’s because these plants were forced to fend for themselves, and were not given a chemical bath that made them inedible to all living creatures except Man, that they are small and gnarly – these are tough and scrappy, life-on-the-streets, fend-for-themselves kind of fruits and veggies.

These plants also had to be fed honest-to-goodness nutrients rather than be raised on chemical fertilizers – the plant-version of growth hormones, which make them – assisted with their chemical bath of pesticides – big, beautiful, and mostly empty of the things that were once in them that our bodies evolved to expect there. So perhaps ‘eating organic’ is not just some hippy-dippy-beads-and-sandals-vegan-feminist-lesbian-tree-hugging-liberal pipe-dream, but rather a sound and practical approach to losing weight and maintaining health, even for conservative-gun-toting-meat-eating folks out there as well. (No offense intended to hippy-dippy-beads-and-sandals-vegan-feminist-lesbian-tree-hugging -liberals nor conservative-gun-toting-meat-eating folks – I have friends in both camps.)

So the above is my behind the hypothesis that I am testing now: if I eat mostly whole foods, produced organically, might it reduce the amount of food I want to eat?

Are Organics Actually a Bargain?

Orgnic food is way more expensive. I just went to Whole Foods the other day and as part of my experiment, bought pretty much everything organic. Some of these organic alternatives can be 3 times the cost of a conventional product that’s on sale at the supermarket down the street. For example, being in the mood for hot dogs, I bought Applegate Farms All Organic No-Nitrate Beef Hot Dogs made from cows that were grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and given daily massages by a team of masseuses (OK – I made that last one up.)

These dogs cost me $6.75 – I could have gone to the supermarket and picked up 2 or maybe 3 packages of the Bar-S brand of hot dogs for that price. I’m singling out this brand because I like them – if I wasn’t trying an organic approach and wanted bologna or hot dogs, I’d be eating this brand.

If the notion of  ‘eat less, pay more’ seems to be a stupid one, how about comparing it to this old saying: you get what you pay for?

With the Bar-S brand, I am probably assured that I am getting meat that passes USDA inspection – and that’s about it. The meat is most likely not antibiotic-free, nor from grass-fed beef. If Applegate Farms isn’t just pretending that their meat is from grass-fed, antibiotic-free cows – then buying the same damn meat as Bar-S, and pocketing the difference, this meat is of a much higher quality. Michael Pollan makes a point in his book that really resonates with me: You are what you eat eats – that grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow had to live in conditions other than total filth, since the need for antibiotics is to compensate for the miserable conditions – and yes, the cruelty – of high-volume industrial cattle farming.

Another interesting aspect that Michael Pollan mentions in his previous book The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that cows really don’t thrive on grains – it gives them a case of chronic indigestion and ‘blows out their livers’ – take a read of this PBS interview with Michael Pollan discussing this aspect in more detail, but here I’ll provide you a tiny excerpt:

I’ve talked to many people who’ve said that if you kept animals on this diet indefinitely, they couldn’t survive. They’re eating a diet on feedlots at 80 percent to 90 percent corn that would sooner or later, as one vet told me, blow out their liver. They could not continue that. And in fact, dairy cows, which we want to live up to 8-10 years, we don’t feed them like this, because we know that it hurts their health. So yes, economically, we tolerate sick cows.

So most of the beef sold comes from sick animals – yum!

Don’t think the situation is any better for pigs and chickens – it isn’t.

So maybe you don’t care about the environment, and maybe you don’t care about the plight of farm animals – that’s OK by me – an underlying thread of this blog from the beginning is a lack of a moral tone – but you might consider that eating food that isn’t half-dead by the time it gets to slaughter might be – somehow – healthier for you.

So, do ‘Happy cows make happy meat’? Does helping the environment and reducing cruelty produce better products that might improve your health? Maybe?

And if you are eating whole foods, perhaps you don’t have to take as many vitamins, which suffer from the same malady as the processed foods: stripped from their natural origins – or just conjured up in a lab – do these things really work – and do they even have in them what is promised on the label? Might they be just a waste of money?

If you ate whole foods and gave up the vitamins – might there be a total cost benefit for your budget while still getting the nutrients you need?

When you buy vitamins, you’re spending a lot of money to add back the nutrients stolen from your food. Maybe buying food that contains the nutrients stripped out and ditching the vitamins might be a better approach?

If the notion that the quality of food also can control hunger actually works, could that possibly help you to lose weight and increase your lifespan like those half-starved rats – but without hunger?

And – if you combine the above with a reduced carbohydrate diet that helps suppress hunger, might you be able to:

  • Eat less and lose weight?
  • Eat less and save money?
  • Eat less and live longer?
  • Eat less and have fewer health problems?

If you are still dubious, there’s yet another angle: conventional food is not as cheap as you think.

I just found at my local store a 9oz. bag of potato chips for $3.33 – that’s $5.92 per pound of potatoes – or put another way, you are paying $3.33 for a total of 2 smallish potatoes fried in seed oil.

Let’s compare that $5.92/lb for 2 smallish conventional potatoes fried in seed oil to $6.75 for a lb. of organic, chemical free hot dogs made from grass-fed cattle. Which do you believe is healthier (at least to those low carb folks out there), more nutrient-dense, and more filling: the chips or approximately 7 hot dogs – both cost about the same.

Which do you think would leave you feeling fuller: the bag of chips or 7 hot dogs?

Also – which of these companies seem to be producing a lot of value for the consumer’s dollar – and which appears to be selling some cheap ingredients at an  exorbitant markup?

Suddenly, those chips start to look like a real ripoff – and those expensive hot dogs don’t seem all that expensive.

These are some of the thoughts I have on this subject, and why I’ve decided to try this approach. Maybe it will come to naught or maybe I’m onto something. We’ll see.

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5 thoughts on “Eating Organic: Does It Help Weight Loss? Can You Do It Without Going Broke?

  1. I have a lot to say about this but no time. I get my organic veggies at Kroger and Meijer and they are only a little more thanthe regular. IMeijer has the best apples. THe organic romaine lettuce lasts up to 6 weeks in the fridge in a container too. I think Whole foods is a rip off as I know someone who is a cheat and a liar who has what they proport to be Low carb bread that they make in there and it is absolutely not. Also don’t get organics at Walmart as they all come from South America and are not in the North American Organics rulebook. The pesticides used in farming will turn to estrogen in your body and cause a myirad of problems including weight gain. As far as meat goes get online and type in grass fed beef within 50 miles of where u live and u will prob find it. I get unpasturized milk, cheese etc grass fed beef and chickens from a local farmer and yes it is more expensive but really worth it in every way. U usually have to pay a small fee to join as they are not supported by the FDA. Also this summer there should be local organics at your local farmers market.

  2. Hi Linda,
    I hate Whole Foods actually – I don’t have any other store to go to – they’ve crowded out all the others.

    I *do* have an excellent farmer’s market with a few ‘beyond organic’ farms selling produce there, and a great farm not too far from me that sells ‘beyond organic’ eggs, milk, cheese, beef and pork.

    Regards,

    LCC

  3. Regarding organic agriculture, wrap your mind around this. It’s the introduction to an essay entitled “Modern Agriculture: Destroying the people to soil link” by Ross Hume Hall, PhD.

    Have you ever considered the beauty of living soil, that thin life-sustaining veneer covering the land mass of this planet? Organic matter, the debris of plants, the excreta and bodies of animals, continually dissolves into the veneer. The reason that worn out bodies of plants, animals, people and their wastes so readily dissolve is that trillions of bacteria await. The bacteria in the top six inches of an acre of good soil weigh more than a bull elephant. These bacteria in their collectivity form a global digestive system. The enzymes they secrete break down the organic debris. We call it rotting or decomposition, but it is exactly the same digestive process that occurs within our own intestines. The breakdown products are assimilated into the bodies of the bacteria in the same way digested food is assimilated from our gut into our blood stream.

    Soil bacteria consists of thousands of species that in their versatility digest any form of ex-living material. They expel the carbon as carbon dioxide and convert the nitrogen, phosphate and minerals into forms that can be recycled by the plants.

    The soil provides a micro honeycomb home for the bacteria. All surfaces are coated with a thin film of water, leaving a tiny bubble of air in the center of each pore. The bacteria live in that film of water much like miniature fish darting about, dependent on constant exchange of air between bubble and film for their life.

    Quality soil, in fact is so finely porous that the tiny soil grains in a teaspoonful exposes a total surface area of six acres. The porous structure just doesn’t happen. Millions of nematodes, earthworms, soil insects, keep the soil stirred up. The earthworm population of one acre processes 10 tons of earth each year through its collective digestive system. Burrowing animals such as moles and rabbits, all play out their purpose in life, loosening the soil, helping to maintain the microporous bacterial habitat.

    Into this world, plants put down their roots, miles of them. A single wheat plant will grow 44 miles of roots, one half mile for every day of existence. A substantial proportion of the soil bacteria live in happy symbiosis in and around roots. The plant provides nutrients the bacteria needs and in turn the bacteria provide substances the plant uses.

    From an ecological perspective we are but a surface extension of this remarkable subterranean life. We depend on animals that feed on plants and plants themselves for sustenance. Under all the sophistication of agricultural science and technology the fact remains that the success of our nourishment depends on the quality of the natural rhythms of soil, plant, and animal.

    In practical terms, it is modern agriculture that interprets those rhythms to us. In this issue of En-Trophy Review we ask whether modern agriculture tries to integrate its practices into those rhythms or whether it strives to go its own independent and discordant way.

  4. One acronym. CSA. They can provide all the organic, grassfed, antibiotic, natural, whatever you’re looking for. Thousands of them around these days, I know, I’m one of them. Some even deliver the food to your doorstep! Support your local farmers!

    • I am actually *blessed* to have the most awesome farmer’s market. For them, the CSA approach has been so-so. I think they are happier selling at the local markets. We also have a BIG locavore element in a number of local resturants, so they seem to be better off than organic farmers in other areas. Perhaps in other areas, the CSA model works, but in Central New Jersey, it appears that my organic farmers do OK without it. I know these people. I see their kids, their dogs, and hear their stories and problems – and am glad to pay extra for their heirloom vegetables that were picked that morning. They work awfully hard to do what they do – and I show my appreciation by paying dearly for their food. It’s only fair. I need them as much as they need me.

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