Monday, 6 May 2013

an introduction to eating 'clean' - why choose organic

I've decided to start this post by stating the obvious.

I'm one of those people.

You know, the sort of person who seems to have a story for everything. I pretty much always have a story to tell - no matter what the topic. I'd like to think that I can be quite interesting, but my boyfriend seems to think I am extremely exhausting. He's told me on many occasions that talking to me on the phone at bedtime serves as his sedative.

Anyway, I digress. This post is an introduction to eating 'clean', and I have yet another true story to tell. It's a long story, and the lesson it teaches is even longer - but bear with me, it's an important one.

This story is about my twin brother. Yes, I have a twin. No, we are not identical. First of all, he is a boy and I am a girl, so we're actually very different. Anyway, he and I have always shared a love for health and fitness, so he has always been fit. A number of years ago, however, he decided for some reason to step it up a notch and get 'shredded'.

The term 'shredded' describes a body that has such a low percentage of body fat that muscles and muscle fibres become distinct and very noticeable. I'm sure that some people manage to achieve this in a responsible, well- informed manner - probably under the guidance and supervision of an expert in the field. My brother, however, went about it the way most twenty- something year- old males would if they'd just moved out of home and had to cook for themselves. His diet consisted primarily of three things - 1) drinks and powders that contained caffeine or other stimulants, 2) protein powders and 3) chicken.

Now, the consumption of caffeine and protein are subject to discussion at a later date. It is the consumption of non- organic produce (in this case, chicken) that I will be highlighting today. You see, non- organic chicken is an easily accessible form of protein. It is also a relatively cheap and easy- to- cook form of protein. So in the eyes of a young man wishing to bulk up and get shredded, it pretty much ticks all of the boxes.

Or does it...?

Within a few short months of starting an extreme exercise and diet regimen, my brother was well on his way to achieving his dream body. He was lean, muscular, agile, fit and he had an 8- pack of abs. Sometimes, he would daydream (and get a bit emotional) about the distant memory of donuts, but he otherwise seemed to be okay.

A few months after that, however, he started to notice a lump in his pectorial (chest) muscle. He sought medical advice. The possibility of cancer was (thankfully) eliminated but as time passed, the lump continued to grow both in size and hardness. It got to the point where it became visible, even beneath a t-shirt or singlet.

Before it could progress any further, my brother underwent surgery to have the lump removed. He went back to a much more normal, more sustainable and a much less restrictive lifestyle, and my household began to purchase organic meats only. The lump has not returned.

Maybe it was the excessive consumption of non- organic chicken, and all of the hormones contained within the meat. Maybe it was a collection of fatty tissue, in which my brother's body had been storing toxins.

The doctors suspected one or both of these factors contributed to the abnormal growth - but the actual cause remains unknown.

You see, toxins are everywhere - they're in air pollution, household cleaning products, skincare products, food containers, cosmetics, drinks, drink bottles and lots of foods. In simple terms, anything that our bodies haven't yet learned to eliminate properly can be considered a toxin.

We do have the ability to break down and remove certain toxins from our bodies - to a degree. But our exposure to new toxins and more toxins is forever increasing!

Busier lifestyles have lead to a greater demand for all things 'fast' - faster travel (and therefore more pollution), faster food (and therefore more packaging), faster food preparation (and therefore more foods processed, prepared and packaged in tins, bags and plastics - and laced with food stabilisers, preservatives and flavour enhancers to maintain supposed "quality" and "freshness").

It isn't difficult to see that staying on top of the whole 'detoxifying' process is probably becoming more and more challenging for our bodies.

What happens to the toxins that aren't broken down and removed from the body? Well, when toxins enter our body, they are faced with one of two possible pathways -

  • circulate in our bloodstream, or
  • get removed from our bloodstream by being stored in fatty tissue.

Now, if toxins undergo the first pathway and travel in our bloodstream, they come into contact with everything that blood comes into contact with. Since our bodies have not yet learned how to recognise or respond to these toxins, their presence in our blood makes us feel like crap - and we experience headaches, tiredness, lethargy, etc.

Because our bodies realise pretty quickly that it would much rather not feel this way, it forces the toxins down the other pathway - it removes the toxins from our circulation. Unfortunately, it does this by storing them within our bodies, in our fatty tissue.

Picture this - a toxin is moving around our bodies via our blood. To prevent it from making us feel like crap, our bodies 'pick it up' and put it into a unit of fatty tissue. It continues to do this to any other toxins we put into our bodies. Once a unit of fat is 'full' - like any storage unit, it has its limitations - it fills up another unit of fat.

Over time, our bodies learn to create and maintain more and more fatty tissue. That way, it never has to worry about not having enough 'storage units' for all the toxins.

This means that, for as long as we continue to introduce toxins into our bodies, we will always have trouble shifting body fat and becoming lean. It also means that attempts to lose weight will become increasingly difficult - our bodies will grasp every opportunity to retain body fat so that it always has a place to store toxins and can avoid feeling horrible.

Once stored in fatty tissue, the toxins are unable to do us harm. The thing is, the accumulation of fat in our bodies leads to another, more serious problem - the more we have of it, the more prone we are to disease.

Deposits of fat can develop under the skin in our thighs and behind our arms,  in our back and on our bums - contributing to and worsening cellulite. Fat can also develop around our internal organs - and this is the scariest part of it all.

Soft fat is not good, but it is not as dangerous as hard, firm fat. I suppose the easiest way to understand this is that lots of soft fat needs to be 'pushed together' to become hard and firm. Research has shown that the firmer the fatty tissue is, the higher the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and many other medical conditions. Of course, these medical conditions then go on to increase the risk of events such as heart attack and stroke.

Additionally, non- organic products can be more likely to cause other health problems.

Non-organic meats and animal products, for example, come from animals that are fed non- organic (and sometimes, even genetically modified) food. They are often pumped full of chemicals that are not designed for human consumption - hormones help them grow bigger and faster, antibiotics help them stay alive while they grow bigger and faster. And when we consume the resultant meat and animal products, we consume these same chemicals.

Non- organic farming methods allow the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which are also not designed for human consumption. Safety aside, these chemicals can diminish the nutrient value of the food. Studies have shown this to often be the case - organically grown fruit and vegetables typically have a more impressive nutritional content compared to their non- organically grown counterpart.

As a side note, organic farming methods are also healthier for our planet. I'm not trying to sound like a 'make love, not war' hippie here (although I'm all for making love instead of war), but when chemicals are used on plants, the ground beneath and around them are also exposed to these chemicals. Over time, the quality of this soil and the surrounding waterways and vegetation can become contaminated too.

When we do manage to remove toxins from our bodies, it is done primarily through our bladder and large intestines (in simple terms - pee and poo) and via our skin.

Our skin is an organ - the largest of all our organs - and it allows certain things to move both in and out. Just as we can remove toxins via our skin by sweating, we can also introduce toxins into our bodies when we use non- organic cosmetics and skincare. So we not only need to be mindful of what we put into our bodies, but also what we put onto our bodies.

Of course, exposure to toxins is inevitable - and complete avoidance of toxins is quite impossible. It therefore makes sense to limit our exposure to toxins whenever and wherever we can (and can afford to). That way, we have fewer toxins to deal with overall - and when we do come across any unavoidable nasties, our bodies will be much more efficient at getting rid of them.

In summary, when and where possible -
  • Consume organic produce,
  • Use organic skincare, cosmetics and household cleaning products, and
  • Buy a drink bottle that does not contain any nasty chemicals (for example, BPA) and fill it up with clean water instead of regularly buying bottled water. Keep the same thought process in mind when purchasing reusable food containers.
Alright, that's all for today. I hope I have provided you with an understanding of why we should choose organic. My next post will focus more on how to choose organic. In the meantime, I've got to go shopping. My local health food store has a sale on today, and I have some organic groceries to buy.

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