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:
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.