Organic vs. natural vs. conventional: What's the difference?

We can use the quicker, cheaper, easier food and drinks to fuel ourselves, but it has an adverse effect on our bodies

My November 2010 column started a series on nutrition and its effects on firefighters. In the column, I discussed my wife’s battle with breast cancer. Unfortunately, she passed away after a four-year battle with cancer January 16, 2011.

As I reflect back over the years, I cannot help but to think if things may have been different if we would have embraced our new way of eating much earlier in life. As you know, we cannot change the past, but we can change the future. The time to change is not when we are diagnosed with a disease, rather the time is when we know the impact a change can make on us.

Over the past few months it has become almost unrealistic the number of colleagues I come into contact with across the country who are being tested, treated or dying from a multitude of disease processes. In the same respect, many of these individuals have been working with me to make a lifestyle change to void their life and diets of the things that appear to be killing so many of us.

It seems so unmanageable in the beginning of the changes that seem to necessitate a healthy lifestyle. In many instances, these individuals are physically fit and exercise regularly. Why is it they are contracting diseases and dying when they are the epitome of a person in great shape?

Effects of what we put into our body
We can use the analogy of a fire truck. If the outward appearance of the fire truck appears to be in great shape and we take care of it on the exterior so it is bright and shiny and all physical appearances look great, it looks like a great truck. But what happens when we forget to look at the parts that make the truck work?

Most fire apparatus use diesel fuel. Let’s say we decide that it is quicker, easier, and cheaper to use gas instead of diesel. Many of you can relate to this dilemma as we can recount instances where someone inadvertently did this. We know not to start the truck, rather to empty the fuel tank.

Our bodies are very similar. We can use the quicker, cheaper, easier food and drinks, yet it has an adverse effect on our bodies.

In the previous column I spoke about the pH balance of our bodies. We know that certain foods cause our bodies to go acidic while others help us maintain an alkaline pH and hopefully maintain a pH in the range of 7.35 to 7.45, which is a homeostasis state. We know that if our body remains in this range we can maintain a healthy body.

Organic vs. natural vs. conventional
The food we consume consists of a variety of compounds. These compounds should be organic in nature. What does organic mean? We hear a lot more about organic foods, but what is the difference, besides price?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) puts it this way: "Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

"Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones."

It really goes back to the way farming was prior to the convention of modern day farming, which alters the way food is grown or raised. For example, it is Thanksgiving and you want to select your turkey. You have the option of purchasing an organic turkey, a natural turkey, or a conventional turkey. What does each consist of?

An organic turkey is raised in a cage-free environment. They roam freely on the pastures. They are not given grains — rather they graze on grass. They eat what they were intended to eat and not fed a diet that is not natural for them. They are also free of hormones, antibiotics, and any other chemicals that would affect their natural state. A certified organic turkey is typically the best and most pure turkey you can eat. Just remember to bake it without any chemical additives.

A natural turkey sounds like it should be good for you because after all it is all natural. Wrong. A natural turkey does not have hormones, antibiotics or preservatives. However, a natural turkey may be given feed that has been genetically modified and may be kept in an environment that is not always the healthiest environment.

By now, you are probably figuring that the conventional turkey or the turkey you will typically find in supermarkets are bad for you. No argument here. These turkeys are in most cases caged, eat genetically modified grain, never see the light of day, and are given hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives.

Think of it this way. Take a pure piece of food and spray a pest control product on it. Now eat it. Yes you can wash it, but do you think the pesticides have not already contaminated the entire piece of food?

The next time you are preparing to purchase food for your consumption, think about the difference of how the food was raised or grown.

How does that compare to the cost of developing a serious disease that may have detrimental effects on your health and the quality of your life. It may actually cost you your life.

We will talk more about labeling of food products in a future column to help discern the ingredients in the food you eat.

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