Posts

How to heal your liver with diet

 

I’ve been on a liver-friendly diet for over a month now. If you’re not sure why, you can read about it here. A few days ago, my doctor redrew my blood to check my liver enzymes and they were…*drumroll please*…normal! Thank goodness that whatever was the reason for my elevated liver enzymes has resolved at this point and is no longer an issue!

As far as following the liver-friendly diet itself, here are my observations:

 

The Good

Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day makes me feel so good! I have great energy, great digestion, and my skin is super clear compared to when I eat fewer servings of the good stuff. Whenever I make sure to get my plant foods in it always reinforces to me how important it is for my body.

 

The Bad

No raw sushi. 🙁

 

The Ugly

 

Not a whole lot…probably the toughest part of the whole month was navigating social situations where others were drinking alcohol or eating high-fat or high-salt foods and I was trying to limit those. I wrote about a few of those situations in my post about eating out on a liver-friendly diet. It wasn’t miserable, but it was a bit tough. I think the difficulty would depend on how often you normally drink alcohol, take NSAID medications, or eat high-fat foods. Since none of these are a huge part of my normal, I didn’t feel like I was missing out too much.

 

Thanks for following along with my liver-friendly journey! Stay tuned to find out what I’ll be up to next!

 

Related Articles

The Story of my Mystery Illness (and how I got my new diet!)

Does Dietitian on a Diet Need to Ditch Dairy?

Eating out on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Liver-Friendly Diet

 

This past weekend I had the opportunity to try out a weekend of celebration, liver-friendly style. Every year in January we go with some friends for a weekend away, this time to McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, OR. Typically, this weekend consists of delicious food, a few cocktails and ciders, and a lot of board games. We always have a great time. Since I’m on a liver-friendly diet this year, I decided to do the best I could to navigate my nutritional recommendations while still having a great time with my husband and friends.

Whether it’s a whole weekend away or a single meal, my primary strategies for meeting dietary recommendations while eating out: plan and prioritize.

 

Planning Ahead

 

Check out the place you’re going to (if you haven’t been there before) and find out what kinds of food are going to be available. We have been to the Grand Lodge many times, so I already know that the lunch and dinner fare is primarily pub-type food (with amazing tater tots). Veggies, protein, grains, and dairy will be no problem, but fruits will be lacking. I’ll have to be careful with fat and sodium, for sure.

 

Also, I know that there is an amazing chocolate milkshake made with their Terminator Stout that I usually get that I won’t be getting this time because it’s loaded with saturated fat and sugar and contains alcohol.

 

road trip snacks that are good for your liver

 

To address these two anticipated issues, I brought along some mandarin oranges and a dark chocolate bar. The chocolate bar contains some saturated fat and sugar, but it will be far better for lil’ ol’ liver than that Terminator Stout milkshake, and I’ll still get some chocolate!

 



 

Prioritizing

 

Think about what menu item would most delight you to eat, whether it’s an entree, a side, a dessert, you name it. Even if it’s a bit high in sodium, fat, or sugar, get that thing. Enjoy it! Surround it with healthier options.

We headed out Friday afternoon and on the way down we decided to stop at a burger joint recommended to us by a friend. None of us had been to Smashburger before, but we decided to give it a go. After checking out the menu, I saw that they had some rosemary herb tater tots. I am a big tot fan, so that was going to be my priority. My main dish was going to have to be healthier. They had a black bean burger on a multigrain bun with avocado, and it sounded tasty!

 

liver friendly avocado black bean burger

 

It was pretty dang good, but the tots were even better. I rounded it out with a water.

Later that evening, we went to soak in the hot tub. This is when I would usually end up getting a mojito, but since alcohol is a no-go on my liver-friendly diet, I asked for a seltzer water with a lime.

 

liver friendly lime seltzer

 

Was it as delicious as a mojito? No, but it was refreshing, tasty, and certainly more hydrating! Besides, I’m really out there to relax in the soaking pool, so mission accomplished.

 



 

After soaking we settled in for some board games and snacks. The Grand Lodge has some epic Cajun-spiced tater tots. If you remember from earlier, tots are definitely a priority for me. Those had to happen. We ordered some pretzel sticks with cheese sauce, but I only ate a couple of the pretzel sticks and avoided the cheese sauce. I would rather have tots!

 

Cajun tater tots and pretzel sticks

 

They were fantastic as always.

The next morning I was fortunate enough to eat one of my favorite dishes, and it just so happens to be liver-friendly! This salmon and red potato hash is made with veggies, anti-inflammatory salmon, and red potatoes. If you want to try it, check out this copycat recipe. My hubby’s breakfast came with a fruit cup but he’s not a melon fan, so he ate the rest and then I got some fruit too!

 

liver friendly breakfast

 

Breakfast did not disappoint.

That afternoon, my friend and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns. It was so well done! For the movie I would normally have chosen to order a hard cider. I wanted something sweeter than the lime water I had last night, so I ordered a seltzer water with lime juice and a half-shot of simple syrup. It had a couple grams of sugar, but it was a definite liver-friendly improvement.

 

seltzer water with lime

 

A side benefit of these “alternative” drinks is that the bartenders wouldn’t even charge me for them since they were mostly water and a little bit of fruit juice. I spent a few dollars in tips instead of the $20-25ish I would have spent on my usual drinks throughout the weekend!

 



 

For a late lunch, we ended up at a Hawaiian fusion restaurant. Everything on the menu looked so good, but I had to go with chicken katsu curry. While it does contain veggies and lean meat, the meat is deep fried and the curry is loaded with sodium. This one may have been a little over the top, but the last time I ate katsu curry was in Japan and I about died from delicious, so I wasn’t going to pass it up. It was supposed to come with macaroni salad, but I subbed that out for the house salad. The curry was the priority!

 

liver friendly Japanese curry and salad

 

After lunch, we were going to settle in for some more board games and snacks. The crew stopped at the grocery store to buy some junk food. My oranges and chocolate bar came to the rescue so I was satisfied with only 2 cookies instead of…however many I would otherwise have eaten…

 

liver-friendly snacks

 

For our final breakfast, I had been itching to find out what the chef’s “daily scone” was. I am Scottish, after all. I asked my server – it was caramel apple. Guys. I was definitely going to have that. Now, I realized that a caramel apple scone was basically breakfast dessert, so I needed some protein and ideally veggies to balance this sucker out. I ordered the veggie sausage on the side and got another cup of unappreciated melon from my husband. The whole thing was dee-licious.

 

liver friendly breakfast

 

Then it was time to leave relaxation for the regularity of normal life. Sigh…it was such a great weekend. While the food I ate was certainly not as low in sodium, fat, or sugar as what I would eat at home, I feel great about the balance. When you’re eating out, gauge your choices based on the foods that are your priorities. The tastiest and most wonderful should take center stage, backed up by a chorus line of nutritious extras. You’ll enjoy yourself and feel great!

 

Related Articles

 

How to Make Healthy Changes that Actually Stick

Eating Out on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Why You Shouldn’t Commit to a Diet this New Year (and what you should do instead)

 



Liver-Friendly Diet

How to Make an Effective Meal Plan

 

Ahhh pre-made meal plans…I gotta tell ya, I love to hate ’em. Finding them, selecting them, and most of all, following them. They are stinky, like fish. That will make more sense in a few paragraphs. Promise.

Why are they stinky, you ask? Well I would be more than happy to tell you.

The food we eat is connected to everything in our lives. Everything. Your budget, your spouse (or lack of spouse), your kids (and their preferences, allergies, and appetites), your schedule, your culture, and your mood all play in to the food you choose to eat. That being said, someone would have to thoroughly understand all of those things about you in order to select foods that are good options for a meal plan for you. Now, how many meal plan makers know you that well?

Let’s take, for example, some meal plans I’ve been on in the past for different blog experiments. For the heart healthy meal plan I followed, the ingredients increased my grocery budget by 75%! Typically I use dinner leftovers for lunches, but that meal plan used NO leftovers for ANYTHING. You know what that gets you (besides an expensive grocery trip)? A fridge full of leftovers waiting to go bad. It also leaves you cooking two meals every night – dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. Not sustainable, functional, or enjoyable.

 



 

My final gripe about following meal plans made by others? Sometimes I just don’t like the food. Like, for example, coleslaw. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s on the meal plan, because the person who made it didn’t know me and my lack of appreciation for coleslaw. So here I am, either eating coleslaw or feeling as though I somehow “failed” my meal plan because I didn’t like it.

And you know what else (yes, I lied about the final gripe part)? As a dietitian, my goal is to empower my patients to live a healthy life they love. Now even if I gave them the perfect meal plan that worked great for their lifestyle, are they empowered? What will they do when the week-long meal plan is over? Will they just eat the same food week after week forever?

Of course not.

Remember the old saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for the rest of his life”? Well, a meal plan is a fish.

 



 

I can give someone a meal plan fish and they can meet their nutritional goals for a week (if they manage to stick with a meal plan someone else made), or I can teach someone how to plan for themselves and meet their health and quality of life goals. Truly, they are the only ones who know themselves well enough to do it. So usually, if my client’s would like to have weekly meal plans, we set aside a portion of each of their appointments and make the meal plan together. It’s not easy and it’s awkward at first, but once they get the hang of it they are empowered. After a few sessions they’ve got the hang of it and they’re making their own meals plans (that they love, that fit their budget and their health goals). They can eat for life – on a budget and with foods they love! And that is why I love what I do.

And why I hate stinky meal plan fish. End rant.

 

Related Articles

How to Meal Plan on a Budget (step-by-step walkthrough)

The Must-Try Meal-Planning Hack to Stop Wasting Food and Money

How to Meal Plan to Save Time and Money (with free printable meal-planning template!)

 



Wellness Tips

how to follow a liver friendly diet

 

Since my foray into the realm of the feverish I was placed on a liver-friendly diet for a month before my doctor re-checks my liver enzyme levels. I always joke with my clients that liver is a very busy guy, and he has many, many jobs. Sometimes they get overwhelming. Enter this comic from The Awkward Yeti.

 

There are many things you can do to support liver in his work. First, let’s briefly cover some of his job responsibilities, to name a few:

 

  • Create bile to help digest fat
  • Metabolize and store carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals
  • Modify or eliminate toxic substances
  • Create many of the compounds that help blood clot
  • Prevent low blood sugar

 

The composition of a liver-friendly diet is, in essence, a healthy balanced diet. There are some more specific things you can do, depending on what is wrong with your liver (which in my case is pretty unclear). Read on for the typical recommendations to support liver health.

 

Liver-Friendly Recommendations

 

  • Follow a diet that will help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, mild calorie restriction is a safe and effective method that has been shown to reduce liver damage in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.1
  • Eat moderate (not high or low) amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Diets high- or low- in one of these groups inevitably lead to unhealthful compensation from other groups.1
  • Antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are very liver protective and supportive. Eat several servings daily of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to give your liver all the help he needs.1, 2 Hey, a rhyme!
  • Avoid “megadoses” of vitamin or mineral supplements (supplements that provide significantly more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance).1 I know someone whose doctor was convinced he was an alcoholic because of the damage his vitamins were doing to his liver. Yikes!
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat, added sugar, or salt.1, 3
  • Avoid alcohol and over-the-counter NSAID medications, unless approved by your doctor.3
  • Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish.3

 



 

Liver-Friendly Suggestions

(Not proven by research, may or not be helpful, but certainly aren’t going to hurt anything)

 

  • Probiotic consumption may be linked to improved liver health.1 We don’t have studies to confirm this or give a specific dosage, but upping your intake of non-alcoholic fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or miso could benefit your liver.
  • There is no proof that eating organic produce can improve liver health or protect your liver; however, one of your liver’s jobs is to remove toxins, which would include pesticides. More than 99.3% of foods test as “well below” the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable levels of pesticides; however, eating organic foods may take a bit of extra strain from your liver.

 

To summarize, I’ve been eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (organic when they fit the budget), plenty of nuts and seeds, and not so much of the super high fat, high sugar, or high salt stuff. Yes, Christmas was a tad tough but I had to do my best to find balance. Also, no alcohol, no sushi, no NSAIDs, and no vitamin or mineral supplements. My doctor plans to re-check my liver levels in a couple of weeks, so hopefully this will help it heal and all of my liver levels will be back to normal!

 

References

  1. McCarthy, E and Rinella, M. “The Role of Diet and Nutrient Composition in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. March 2012. 112:3 (401-409). Accessed from https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(11)01703-2/fulltext.
  2. Cook, L, et al. “Vegetable Consumption is Linked to Decreased Visceral and Liver Fat and Improved Insulin Resistance in Overweight Latino Youth.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. November 2014. 114:11 (1776-1783). Accessed from https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(14)00107-5/fulltext.
  3. American Liver Foundation. “Liver Disease Diets: A Healthy Diet, a Healthier Liver, and a Healthier You.” 2017. Accessed 6 January 2019. Accessed from https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/health-wellness/nutrition/#1504047357338-1da02851-5896.

 



Liver-Friendly Diet

don't diet this year

 

The New Year is almost here! So why not put out my dietitian two cents on New Year’s resolutions, particularly as they apply to healthy eating goals? Do you want to become healthier in the new year? That’s excellent! The next thing to do is determine specifically how you plan to do that. Are you going to exercise more? Eat more fruits and vegetables? Drink more water?

 

Too often the answer is, “I’m going to lose weight by following _______ diet.”

 

I encourage (and plead and beg of) you NOT to make that commitment this year. Here’s why:

 

Whoever made _______ diet did not have you in mind.

 

They don’t know about your budget, your son’s food allergy, your love for lattes, your busy, busy mornings, or your picky, picky toddler. They made _______ diet with the goal of getting pounds off of people and more than likely, selling some books/supplements/shrink-wrap belts/etc along the way. You may be able to fight, claw, and scratch for a few days, weeks, or even months. But the chances that the entire diet plan fits so effortlessly into every part of your life that you can maintain it forever are slim to none. It’s likely that you’ll throw your hands up at some point and say, “I’m DONE!”

 



 

Here’s the other reality about weight-loss diets: they aren’t necessarily good for you. If the goal is only to take pounds off, most of them work like a charm. They do! The pounds come off for most people (not all) if they really follow a diet plan. The problem is, if the goal is to keep weight off, most diets are total failures for most people.

 

Most weight-loss diets in some way mimic starvation (often with a myriad of dietary contortions that are miserable and difficult to follow). Do you know what mimicking starvation does to your body? It tells it to live off of stored fat (hence, weight loss) and it teaches it that starvation is a very real possibility in your life. In fact, it has happened! It teaches your body that every time it gets a chance it should take every single extra calorie and store it away as fat to help you survive starvation. That means that as soon as you are sick of your diet (or reach your weight loss goal) and begin to eat normally, your body will be itching to build up its “savings account” of fat again to weather the next starvation storm.

 

This also means that every time you “cheat” your body will store that innocent little piece of cake or that perfectly acceptable apple crisp and send it straight to fat storage. Have you ever thought, “it seems like if I even look at dessert I gain weight”? It is practically true for some dieters. Your body will not happily burn through something that it sees as a vital deposit in a dwindling emergency fund.

 

Most weight-loss diets teach your body to store fat!

 

These diets slow down your metabolism (bye, bye energy!), prepare your body to regain weight, and let’s be honest…just suck to follow. Let’s be real.

 



 

Here’s what to do instead:

 

1. Don’t get married without dating first!

What I mean is, don’t commit to stick to a plan if you have no clue how well it is going to work for your body and your life. If it feels like fighting, clawing, and scratching, then it’s not the right change for you. Avoid committing to any plan that you haven’t tried out first. Honestly evaluate how it fits into your life and if it doesn’t, it’s not your failure – it’s the wrong plan!

 

healthy habits that fit your life

 

2. Commit to a habit, then figure out how to make it work in your life.

Instead of a whole plan, pick a healthy habit. Want to drink more water? Great! Pick an ounce goal (80-100 oz is a good start for most folks) and try however many strategies you must in order to find the one that actually helps you get there. Try carrying a water bottle everywhere. Try setting mini-goals (20 oz. by 10 am, 40 by noon). Try an app like My Fitness Pal. Try a cheesier app like Plant Nanny. Try fruit-infused water. Try tea. Try filling a gallon jug of water daily. Try whatever you need to try until you get closer to where you want to be. The real work is in finding the strategy that doesn’t feel like work.

 

Once you’ve figured that one out, choose another habit and stack it on top of the first. Ready to eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day? Walk for 20 minutes 3 times per week? Regardless of the goals you pick, this test-driving strategy means you’ll have the opportunity to make each change fit your life. Once you stack up all your new (and easy to stick with) habits, just think how much healthier you’ll be! Not to mention how much more enjoyable it will be than that “clean eating” cleanse you were thinking about trying…

 

3. Put your blinders on

This is the toughest part and it’s a total mental game. Your cousin’s on keto, your PTO pal is on paleo, and your fitness-nut friend is fasting 16 hours a day. They’re all losing weight and you’re over here working on your water intake. It can truly be maddening. Remember from before – most any diet will get weight off. Most any diet will not keep weight off. Remind yourself how many times you’ve watched someone (or you yourself have done this…it’s okay!) diet, lose weight, then gradually gain it all back and then some. All of these people you know are setting their bodies up to gain more fat in the long run. It’s sad, but it’s true!

So try not to let them influence you. It’s so, so hard, I know! I’m a dietitian – I’ve studied nutrition for 10 years – and I can still feel myself being influenced by social media progress photos from diets and supplements that I know are not safe or effective. It is a battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting, because even if keto is the perfect fit for cousin Kathy, you are not Kathy.

You must find your healthy life.

That means that you eat what works for your body, your family, your budget, your lifestyle, and makes you happy. Put in the work to find out what that is, and you’ll be so pleased with how easy it can be to be healthy!

 



 

Related Articles

How to Make Healthy Changes that Actually Stick

To Diet or Not to Diet: 5 Ways to Know if an Eating Plan is Right for You

What to Do When Your Healthy Plan Falls Through

Goal Setting Wellness Tips

My mystery illness raised my liver enzymes

 

You may have noticed that my posts have been a bit absent in the last few weeks. More than likely you didn’t necessarily notice…until now. 🙂 That’s okay, it doesn’t hurt my feelings! Anyway, here’s why I’ve been MIA: Starting the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I started to feel like I was coming down with something. Fever, achy muscles, fatigue…bummer. I did my best to stay hydrated and geared up to work through a cold or flu. For several days after I continued to feel feverish, tired, and achy (including headache), but I never developed any other symptoms. No runny nose, no sore throat, no cough, no nausea/vomiting, nothing. It was strange, but not too concerning at first.

 

After a few days with no worsening or improvement, I decided it might be wise to go to a walk-in clinic to get checked out. During the course of that appointment, the doctor brought up some concerns of pelvic inflammatory disease and/or toxic shock syndrome, so she sent me to the emergency room to be evaluated. At the emergency room, the doctor was not very concerned about me. He was confident that I did not have toxic shock syndrome. He also figured that pelvic inflammatory disease was unlikely. He took a flu swab and a urine sample (to check for UTIs, and of course, pregnancy and STDs – standard procedure) and sent me home. All of those tests came back negative, so I figured I just had some kind of wonky virus that I just needed to wait out.

 

I rested, I ate soup, fruit, and Haagen-Daas sorbet (heaven!), and I took Nyquil to sleep at night.

 

Three days later I was steadily getting worse (a week and a half with a 101-degree fever at this point) and I was starting to get concerned that I had some kind of more serious infection. I went to another clinic and they were, thankfully, able to get me in right away. The nurse practitioner I saw was definitely concerned about the possibilities, so she ran me through a gamut of tests. She gave me a complete physical exam, took my blood, swabbed for strep, and took more urine. Because, you know, pregnancy and STDs.

 

Three days later, I was feeling even worse and really starting to get concerned about my continued fever with no treatment of any kind whatsoever. I called the clinic, who did not yet have my results but they told me they wanted me to have an abdominal and pelvic ultrasound to check everything out. They also told me I could take a dose of antibiotics prophylactically, so I did. The next day I felt significantly better, as I did for the next few days. I completed the ultrasound and awaited the results of all of my testing.

 



 

When all the results came in, every single thing was negative and there was no explanation for my 2-week-long fever. I was floored. At this point, we knew that I didn’t have flu, I didn’t have strep, I wasn’t pregnant, had no STD’s, and theoretically had no infection whatsoever because my white blood cells (even those that respond to bacterial or viral infections) were normal!

 

I was totally baffled – why did that antibiotic make me feel so much better? Placebo?

 

My nurse practitioner was also at a loss, and offered to put me on the schedule of the most experienced MD at their clinic. Meanwhile, I continued to feel better but still had a 101-degree fever. I was started to get very annoyed with being sick. You know, sick and tired of being sick and tired. I hadn’t worked out (or hardly worked) for 2 and a half weeks and was just getting kinda done with it. I can only lay around and watch Netflix for so long before going nuts. What was wrong with my body?

 

The MD tested me for mono, ran a comprehensive metabolic panel (kind of an all-systems-check), and checked my thyroid. When the results came back, everything was negative except one thing – my liver enzymes were 8 times higher than they should have been. Now, for the most part, liver enzymes belong inside your liver and not in your blood, so if the liver enzymes in your blood are high, then your liver is leaking them for some reason. Your liver is somehow damaged, and that’s typically not a good thing. Since the ultrasound of my liver had come back normal, the doctor wanted me to have a CT scan to get a clearer picture to rule out stones (and cancer…eek!).

 



 

I happen to know that Nyquil (which I hadn’t taken for about a week at this point) contains acetaminophen, which can affect your liver enzymes for a couple of weeks. I asked my doctor’s office about that, but they said that based on the dose I had taken and how long it had been since I had taken them, it was unlikely that they would affect my liver enzymes SO much.

 

So off I went, back to the radiology clinic for a CT scan. I was reluctant to have the CT scan (radiation and all…) but I knew I needed to have everything checked out. The CT scan itself was super easy. Five minutes tops. Then came the waiting and the trying to not think too much about every possible thing that could be wrong with me.

 

Fortunately, it only took a couple of days to get the results back and everything was completely normal. While the doctor still had no explanation for why my liver enzymes were so high, the good news was that my liver looked totally fine.

 

Since all of that testing, I have been feeling basically back to normal energy-wise. I still occasionally feel feverish, but I’m back to my normal life. I even got to go back to (light) working out in the last few days! That was such a blessing and a mood boost, for sure.

 

First day back in the gym!

 

The mystery of what was/is wrong with me continues, but here are my marching orders: as long as I continue to feel better, I need to follow a liver-friendly diet and come back to have my liver enzymes tested next month to see if my liver has healed from…whatever was wrong. So while I didn’t exactly plan on doing a diet feature right now, I figure if I have to be on a diet anyway, I might as well feature it! It is the Christmas season, so my posts may not be as frequent or thorough as they typically are during a feature, but I’ll do my best.

 

Stay tuned to learn more about what a liver-friendly diet is and follow along with me while I follow it for the next month!

 

Related Posts

Does Dietitian on a Diet need to Ditch Dairy?

Heart Healthy Diet 101

Anti-Inflammatory Add-Ins and Supplements

 



Liver-Friendly Diet

Should I buy organic

 

To wrap up our series on Eating Well on a Budget, we’ll address one of the more common questions I get as a dietitian: is it worth spending more money on organic foods?

The answer is complex and individual. There are so many factors to consider – research, finances, and health concerns to name a few. The answer is a personal choice based on your consideration of all of these factors and how they interact in your own life. In an effort to inform those decisions, we will discuss some of the research surrounding these topics.

What Makes Produce Organic?

 

The USDA allows the use of the term “organic” on produce and products that meet the following criteria:

  • produce or ingredients are “…certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”
  • Do not contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
  • Not grown or handled using genetically modified organisms”1

 

Is Organic Produce Healthier?

 

Food that meets organic criteria also often touts a higher price tag (49% higher, according to Consumer Reports2). So for the budget- and health-conscious consumer, the question is: does eating organic vs. non-organic foods have a significant impact on my health?

The trickiest part about answering that question is that humans are such complicated critters…it is difficult to tease out the health impacts of something like eating organic produce vs. non-organic produce because in most cases, the effects of that decision would be long-term – some even lifelong. That makes research difficult, because over the course of a lifetime there are so many confounding factors that it is darn near impossible to definitively pinpoint a specific cause or even correlational relationship. For example, since organic produce is more expensive, those who eat organically-grown produce regularly might be more likely to have higher incomes than those who don’t. If there is a difference in health outcomes, could it be due to living in less polluted areas or having better health care? I’m not sure that there will ever be a direct, consistent, and documented difference in many of cases, for that reason.

Instead, what often happens is that research tends to produce a lot of conflicting or confusing results. Here are the findings of a just a handful of different research studies:

  • A study of organic vs. non-organically-grown greens found that organically grown spinach had higher concentrations of iron, zinc, and calcium than non-organically grown spinach, but no difference between organically vs. non-organically grown romaine. Non-organic romaine contained higher concentrations of magnesium than organic romaine.3
  • In a review of the nutritional content of organic vs. non-organic produce, organic foods were “nutritionally superior” (based on an assessment of the content of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, nitrates and protein) in 61% of cases, while non-organic produce was “nutritionally superior” in 37% of cases.4
  • The USDA’s report on pesticide testing in 2016 found that more than 99.5% of foods tested “well below” benchmark safety levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency.” 22% of the samples had no detectable pesticide residue.5
  • Meanwhile, other studies have linked intakes of foods with higher pesticide residues with fertility issues. Non-organic produce with lower pesticide levels had no negative effect on fertility.6, 7

 

Just a little research muddies the water a bit, doesn’t it?

 



 

Is Buying Organic Produce Worth It?

In these cases I keep a mental category of recommendations that I call “common sense” recommendations. These recommendations apply to these complicated situations where research makes things less, rather than more, clear. Common sense would tell us that it is probably best for us to eat in the form in which God provided it to us. Common sense tells us that it is probably best to eat foods that was not grown with chemicals designed to kill other life forms.

That being said, these “common sense” recommendations are not wholeheartedly supported by research, as you saw above. They are not, by any means, hard and fast rules and, as mentioned earlier, there are many factors to consider.

One thing we absolutely know for sure is that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day is significantly beneficial for cancer prevention, heart health, reducing inflammation, and so many other health conditions.2 Those benefits exist regardless of whether those fruits and vegetables are organic or not. I can say with certainty that eating several servings per day of non-organic produce is much more beneficial than no produce at all! So that’s where it ultimately comes down to personal choice. You need to balance your own personal health goals with your own personal budget. For those who feel that they would like to limit their exposure to pesticide residues but simply find it beyond what their grocery budget allows, there are a few options:

  • Prioritize your purchases: Each year, the Environmental Working Group produces a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. These are the produce items with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue, respectively. If you can’t afford to buy all organically-grown produce, you can prioritize the dirty dozen items as organic to reduce your pesticide exposure.
  • Look for a cropshare or a wonky produce subscription: Small family farms and waste prevention programs have created subscription services to purchase local organic produce. Some of these programs feature fruits and vegetables of unusual size or shape that grocery stores don’t want to sell. These programs offer these items at reduced cost to consumers to prevent food waste. Check out Imperfect Produce to see if they provide these services in your area!
  • Grown your own: This can certainly be a commitment, but the benefits are so delicious! You’ll enjoy fresh, tasty food grown in your own yard, containers, or window boxes. You can even use SNAP/EBT benefits to purchase seeds for growing. If you’re a total newbie, ask Google or a local librarian to help you find info on growing your own crops of delicious (and very low cost) produce.

 



 

You might also like…

Money-Saving Tip: When Good Produce Goes Bad

How to Meal Plan on a Budget (step-by-step walkthrough)

What to do When Your Healthy Plan Falls Through

References

  1. McEvoy, M. “Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Really Means.” U. S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means.
  2. “Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide: Our new produce guidelines show you how to make the best choices for your health and for the environment.” Consumer Reportshttps://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm.
  3. Rose, S. B. et al. “Mineral Content of Organic and Conventionally Grown Spinach and Lettuce.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. September 2011. 111:9S. p A45. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(11)00868-6/pdf.
  4. Benbrook, C. et al. “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods.” The Organic Center. March 2008. https://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/5367_Nutrient_Content_SSR_FINAL_V2.pdf.
  5. “USDA Releases 2016 Annual Pesticide Data Program Summary.” United States Department of Agriculture. February 2018. https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/usda-releases-2016-annual-pesticide-data-program-summary.
  6. Chiu, Y. et al. “Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Fertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology.” Journal of the American Medical Association. January 2018. 178:1. p 17-26. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2659557?alert=1
  7. Chiu, Y. et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction. June 2015. 30:6. p. 1342-1351. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25824023.

Eating Well on a Budget