Five Reasons That Eating Local is Better for Body and Mind
Jun 29, 2013 02:52PM
● By Jaclyn Downs
Grocery store produce typically has travelled more than 1,500 miles before it gets to the end consumer. Many people choose to buy locally farmed food because it supports their community, leaves a light footprint and quite simply, because it tastes better. A less considered, but equally important consideration is why locally grown food is better for our health. Here are five reasons why local food is more nourishing.
1. The fresher the food, the more nutrients it contains.
As food ages, it oxidizes rapidly and loses beneficial nutrients, moisture and flavor. Traveling long distances means that much of the perishable food found in grocery stores passes through several hands, including inspections and wholesale warehouse storage, all of which adds to the timeline of getting the food to the person eating it.
Furthermore, to allow for travel time, produce that is not locally grown is usually picked prior to ripening and reaching its full nutritional potential. Then, chemicals are typically applied to prevent it from ripening too soon and to force the perfect amount of ripeness for its retail display.
2. Eating locally expands one’s palate and therefore the spectrum of nutrients ingested.
Small farms often like to grow a variety of different crops, especially heirlooms. The spectrum of antioxidants that show themselves through the brilliant colors of fruits and veggies may help prevent the cellular damage caused by the unstable molecules (free radicals) that can lead to cancer and other diseases. By providing a wider variety of produce than can be found in the grocery store, local farms may offer more compelling opportunities to enrich the diet with a broader range of flavors and nutrients.
3. Because small farmers like to grow a variety of foods and often use organic growing methods, the soil they are grown in is more nutrient-dense, resulting in more nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Industrial farms generally practice mono-crop growing methods, meaning they grow the same crop on the same plot year after year, depleting soil nutrients specific to that type of crop, which leads to unhealthy soil and a reliance on synthetic fertilizers, the runoff from which causes the overgrowth of aquatic algae, creating oxygen-depleted dead zones in natural bodies of water.
4. Many local farmers grow organically, and therefore do not use the synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that industrial farms use; if any chemicals are used, they are generally fewer and less intense.
Although they are designed to harm only pests and weeds, the chemicals applied in industrial farming are suspected to accumulate in the body with repeated low-dose exposure and are linked to disease in several ways.
- Research compiled by organizations including Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Alzheimer’s Association has linked these chemicals to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Research also links the chemicals to behavioral problems in children and brain development problems in fetuses.
- Pesticides may also act as endocrine disruptors, according to Dr. Theo Colborn, a senior scientist at the World Wildlife Fund and co-author of Our Stolen Future. By throwing hormones out of whack, they may lead to problems with infertility, obesity and breast cancer. Because insulin is a hormone, some investigators are exploring the possible links between pesticides and insulin resistance and diabetes.
- Some pesticides are obesogens—a term coined by Felix Grün and Bruce Blumberg, of the University of California–Irvine, authors of The New American Diet. They maintain that these chemicals may contribute to obesity directly by increasing either the number of fat cells or the amount of fat stored in those cells and indirectly by disrupting the endocrine system or the modulation of appetite, satiety and metabolism.
5. The processing and packaging of foods introduces more chemicals.
Heating and adding chemical solvents and stabilizers denatures proteins and alters the food from its natural state. According to the American Cancer Society, compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates can leach into food from packaging, plastics and can linings, and may influence cancer risk by acting as hormone-like substances in the body. Local food producers generally do not add preservatives, flavor enhancers, stabilizers or texturizers, and fresh foods are not stored in chemical-leaching packaging; instead, these foods provide our bodies with uncontaminated vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and enzymes.
It is quite amazing that we can buy peaches in the middle of winter and that people in Montana can eat oranges whenever they want, but eating seasonally, which happens when you buy locally, has its merits, too. The energetics of food ties in closely with the seasons. Springtime, a season of renewal and uplifting energy, is also the season for leafy greens, the kings of body cleansing. Root vegetables, great cold weather crops, grow beneath the ground and give us grounding and comforting energy, just as the weather beckons us to slow down and stay close to home. Humans have been eating with the seasons for thousands of years, and with this sensible simplicity, our bodies thrived. The foods that are available locally are fresh and in synch with the energy that the season calls forth.
Jaclyn Downs is a board-certified holistic health coach, certified yoga instructor and birth doula. She is available to give workshops on various topics related to food and wellness. Connect at GetBalancedWellness.com.