Have you ever considered buying only organic food? How about becoming a vegetarian? These options may have seemed unlikely before living in China, but many expats choose these options in a search for balance and health. Is either option a healthier alternative? I’d like to offer my medical and personal opinion.
Becoming a vegetarian and choosing to give up most or all meat is a major lifestyle change, but many do swear that they feel healthier and more energetic. I love meat and would have a tough time giving it up completely, but I worry about the massive environmental impact of raising animals, especially cows. Most animals are now bred unnaturally on massive agro-farms; they are often fed with hormones to fatten them up quickly and given corn instead of being naturally pasture-fed. And quite a few doctors, supported by research, feel that we eat far more omega 6 fats (found in meat) rather than heart healthy omega 3 from plants, fish, and nuts. It’s this unbalanced omega 3/6 ratio that is now considered a major contributor to heart disease. All of this is a major factor to why I avoid meat at least once a week in support of the Meatless Monday campaign started by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their website, meatlessmonday.com, has recipes for kids, restaurant tips and easy-to-read handouts. It’ll get your family discussing healthier lifestyle choices, and it’s a great test run for exploring a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Organic food is another hot food topic. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a statement on organics for kids – a must-read for parents. You can find it at bit.ly/ZVkZ5W. The AAP report concluded that organic food is generally not more nutritious than conventional food, and most kids do not benefit from an all-organic diet – probably a surprise to many of you! And while an organic diet clearly lowers a child’s blood levels of pesticides, the AAP didn’t state this was automatically better for health, as the best study results weren’t too clear on this. Some foods, such as corn and onions, typically don’t have many pesticides, but apples and grapes have a lot, so those two should be bought organic whenever possible. The AAP also feels that organic milk has no proven benefits over conventional milk, but drinking milk from antibiotic-free cows may theoretically help decrease antibiotic resistance, which is fast becoming a problem worldwide.
While this AAP report may actually be reassuring to some, don’t forget that its conclusions are based on the American market and farming culture. My personal feeling is that pesticide use, chemical problems, and antibiotic overuse in China are far more serious than in the US, and it makes more sense in Beijing to buy organic when possible. Forget about the nutrition issue: buying organic minimizes exposure to toxins.
Photo by Flickr user dboy