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Is “Natural” Food Really Better?

By August 26, 2015Nutrition

We have more insight than ever before into how our food is produced. Many people are put off by what goes into food production, and they want foods that are more natural, aren’t packaged or frozen, etc. In reality, most of these changes to food won’t make much of difference to your physique or health.

The most important factors, that you can control, for a healthy diet are : calories, macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and fiber. Calorie intake affects your body weight, with excess body weight being associated with numerous diseases. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) Protein intake and resistance training influences your lean muscle mass, and increased muscle mass is positively associated with a longer life. (8). Micronutrient intake (largely from fruits and vegetables) is the biggest role your food plays in warding off illness. (9) (10) Dietary fiber is positively correlated with a reduced risk of many diseases as well. (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) These are the meat and potatoes (plenty of pun intended) of nutrition. These factors are FAR more important and in your own control than the following topics that are so often debated in media outlets:

– Frozen, canned, boxed, packaged, or fresh
– Grassfed beef vs grain-fed (18) (19)
– Organic vs inorganic (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25)
– GMO vs non-GMO (26) (27) (28) (29) (30)
– Artificial vs natural sweeteners (31) (32)

There is very little credible evidence that shows these factors make a difference to one’s health, and the evidence that does show a contrast only supports a nominal one. (33) (34) (35). People are trying to figure out the cause for diseases- is our food to blame? Of course our food contributes to illness. There are so many high calorie, nutrient-devoid foods easily available and affordable. They are abundant, convenient, and longer lasting than nutrient powerhouses like fruits and vegetables.

But let’s take everything into perspective: if we didn’t worry about organic vs. inorganic, GMO vs. non GMO, artificial sweeteners, ingredients we can’t pronounce, or food that spent time in a factory…..if we all solely focused on: exercising every day, resistance training to build lean muscle and skeletal mass, maintaining a smart calorie intake, eating multiple servings of fruits and vegetables every day- Wouldn’t we be a lot healthier?

Do you think we’d reduce illnesses and improve health if everyone followed those simple guidelines?

We worry about chemicals in our food and how manufacturers alter our food supply- but if it weren’t for chemicals and man-made products, where would be today? Think of all the man-made, chemical-based medicines, vaccines, and medical procedures that have saved lives.  (36) It’s no coincidence that it took the whole length of human history until the year 1959 for the world population to reach 3 billion people, and then it DOUBLED to 6 billion people in the next 40 years! Consider how man-made technology has allowed us to more efficiently farm, sustain crops, and feed the planet. (37) Without these advances we’d be living in a much different world.

I’ve heard nutrition gurus say food gets ruined “when man gets his grubby hands on it.” If it weren’t for those grubby hands, what kind of world would we be living in? Technology and scientific advancements obviously have their drawbacks and can produce some very negative consequences, but I cannot see the total some of man’s technological advancements- including in the food industry- as anything but positive.

Man-made chemicals, processes, packaging, preserving, and technologies have all burgeoned in the past 50 years, and at the same time human life expectancy across the globe has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 71 years in 2013. (38) Focus on the basics of nutrition, the ones you can actually control. The other minutia plays a small role in your health compared to them.

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