Science Shows Us How We Can Actually Eat Healthy

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Lots of people tell us that healthy food should always be fresh, organic, natural, and GMO-free. “Organic foods can help you lose weight and improve your overall health. I think so.” But experts say that thinking is all wrong. Because these labels don’t actually matter when it comes to nutrition. Here’s what they really mean. So which one of these is healthiest? A cheap tomato, an expensive tomato, canned tomato, or frozen tomato? Well, it’s probably not what you think. Because, nutritionally, these all might be the same. We have all kinds of misconceptions about how to choose what’s healthy. So, for example: Lots of people think more expensive items are healthier than cheaper foods, even when they have same nutrition facts. They’re not. What about fresh versus packaged food? Most people think that canned food is automatically less healthy than fresh food. But lots of research shows fresh produce isn’t always best. Fruits and vegetables can lose lots of nutrients by the time they make it from the farm to your dinner plate. But canned and frozen foods are packaged fresh, so most of the nutrients are sealed in.

And organic? Well, there are plenty of reasons to buy organic. Organic meat, for instance, comes from animals that get fewer antibiotics.  But organic food is not necessarily more nutritious. Crops can be treated with toxic chemicals and still be considered organic. The chemicals just have to come from nature. “Natural” food labels are meaningless. Anyone can legally say their product is “natural.” And then there are non-GMO labels.

These labels are misleading, because they’re marketed to suggest genetically modified food is bad for you. But genetically modifying plants can actually make your food safer. “The goal of genetics is to try to develop crops, that farmers can plant, so they don’t need to use so many pesticides, or at least reduce the toxicity of the compounds that they spray.” according to Pam Ronald, a plant geneticist at the University of California.

She says a big problem with non-GMO crops is that growing them often means a return to older, more harmful pesticides. “What I really try to avoid is non-GMO, because these non-GMO labels have proliferated, and they’re really a problem for the consumers and the environment, and also for organic growers. Because there’s no regulation, they can just spray anything they want.” And a lot of farmers say the same thing. Don Duvall, vice chairman of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, who’s been farming since the 1970s  started growing genetically modified corn about 20 years ago. “We completely eliminated our insecticide use. That corn plant becomes a healthier product, because it has not been subject to these toxins, by way of an insect bite. So, from that standpoint, GMO has been, actually, maybe a safer food than non-GMO.” Lots of people are scared by the idea of GMOs, but, it turns out, they’re actually a big step forward.

So what should you actually buy? First, fruit and vegetables, in any form. All the distinctions in this post are much less important than the fact that you need to eat produce. Eat your fruits and vegetables. It’s even more important than what’s sprayed. The levels are low enough they’re not going to hurt you. Next, instead of paying attention to labels and packaging, designed by marketers, look at the nutrition information.

Figure out which foods carry the nutrients you need for your health goals. That might mean doing some research, or talking to a nutritionist. “People want weight loss and weight management benefits, they want cardiovascular health benefits, but then, when we followed up and asked them, what food or nutrients would you choose to help you achieve this health benefit that you’re looking for, we found that over half couldn’t name a single food or nutrient associated with that benefit.” Nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all.

That’s the problem with relying on vague labels like “organic” and “non-GMO.” The important stuff is way more specific. Like, if you’re focusing on heart health, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help. And if you want to boost your immune system, the zinc in spinach can help with that. the zinc in spinach can help with that. A nutritionist can tell you all these things, A nutritionist can tell you all these things, but there are plenty of free resources that can give advice based on your body’s specific needs..

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