Last week I was talking about nutrition with one of my workout buddies and when I mentioned grass fed beef and "organic food” he asked, "Do you mean like what you get at Whole Foods Market?"
By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
I said, "Yes, exactly... that's a natural food and organic supermarket." He said, "Yeah well, that place costs so much, I call it Whole Paycheck!"
I was rolling on the floor laughing, but the truth is, organic food really is expensive and so is grass fed beef and free range chicken, so it's a valid question to ask, “Is it worth it?”
After researching the subject and doing some personal experiments with my own diet, let me offer you my take on it from a bodybuilder’s viewpoint. This is a perspective on organics you may not have heard before.
First, look at it this way - if you put the cheapest fuel in your luxury car, how well is it going to run and how many miles are you going to get out of it?
While I'm on car analogies, health and fitness author and educator Paul Chek once wrote about how ridiculous it is to watch how many $75,000 + cars pull up to the Mcdonald's or Burger King drive through window to buy $1.99 hamburgers.
I would say that's a serious case of screwed up priorities, wouldn't you? The driver has no problem shelling out the $1,100 monthly car payment, but it's too much to ask him to put premium fuel into his own "bodily vehicle."
How can you put ANY price tag on your body and your health? You can buy another car, but you've only got one body.
Now, as for the grass fed beef and organic foods question….
For best results in body composition improvement, which I define as burning fat and or building muscle, (and I'll even go as far as to say for optimal health as well), I am a believer in including animal proteins, including lean meats.
I have no wish to take up the vegetarian debate in this article. I respect vegetarians and acknowledge that a healthy and lean body can be developed with a vegetarian diet if it is done properly, although it may be more challenging for strict vegans to gain muscle for various reasons.
However, in recommending animal protein as part of a healthy fat loss and muscle building nutrition program, I do agree that we all need to give some serious thought to what is in our meat (and in the rest of our food).
Some people say that meat is part of our “evolutionary” diet and it’s the way we were intended to eat and I wouldn’t argue with that. But is the meat we’re eating in today’s modern society the same as what was hunted and eaten many thousands of years ago by our cave-man ancestors, or has some “toxic stuff” found its way into our beef, poultry and fish that wasn’t there before?
I also think we should consider what is *missing* from our commercially grown food, that is supposed to be in there, that probably used to be there in the past, but may not be today.
A lot of people are not paying any attention to this... even people who should know better. I admit it - I was oblivious to this for a long time myself. Here’s why:
I am not your typical "health and wellness" or "weight loss" expert. I am also competitive bodybuilder. We bodybuilders are well known for eating very clean diets with lots of lean protein and natural carbs, as well as for looking like "the picture of health" with our ripped abs and impressive muscularity.
We eat our oatmeal and egg whites for breakfast, and proudly walk around with our chicken breast, rice and broccoli or our flank steak, yams and asparagus, and boast about how perfect and clean our meals are and how our diets are already “clean” and could not be improved.
But how many bodybuilders or fitness enthusiasts are there - even serious, dedicated and educated ones - who don't give a single thought to the poisonous chemicals that might be lurking in our supposedly "clean" food?
The Food and Drug Administration lists more than 3,000 chemicals that can be added to our food supply. One billion pounds of pesticides and farming chemicals are used on our crops every year.
Depending on what source you quote, the average American consumes as much as 150 pounds of chemicals and food additives per year.
Does ANYBODY out there think that this is good for you?
Didn't think so.
If you had a way to avoid all these chemicals and toxins, would you at least explore it, even if it cost a little more?
Although this topic is controversial and hotly debated, organic food is gaining in popularity and seems to fit this bill.
Food grown on certified organic farms does not contain:
It is also not:
Beyond the "certified organic" label, grass fed beef and free range chicken (and eggs), have other advantages.
Not only can there be tons of antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals in our meat, but also commercially raised beef is fed grain or corn and yet that is not what the animals were meant to eat.
The result - aside from sick, drugged animals - is a higher overall fat, higher saturated fat and a screwed up ratio of omega three to omega six fats, which is a very big problem today - even when you think you're eating "clean." Most people accept the idea that “you are what you eat,” but they forget that the animals we eat are what they ate!
Last but not least, proponents of organic food suggest that the vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content of commercially grown foods can be anywhere from a little bit low to virtually absent.
So... if organic and or grass fed beef and free range chicken can help us avoid some of these problems and dangers, then I'm all for it and the extra investment.
I started eating grass fed beef almost exclusively (except for my occasional restaurant steak), quite a few years ago, and I even mentioned it in my book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle (www.burnthefat.com).
I can't say I eat entirely organic. I eat a lot of it, but not 100%. If I'm eating an apple or some blueberries, and it doesn't happen to be organic, I don’t freak out over it. When you really study deeply into the subject of food processing, industrial pollution and commercial farming, it can almost scare you half to death, but I don't recommend getting "alarmist" about it.
Sometimes it's the people who live in fear of a disease who are most likely to get it. I for one, am not going to live in a plastic bubble to isolate myself from a “toxic world”… oh, wait... make that a ceramic bubble, plastics are really bad for you.
All joking aside, the fear of toxins can be taken to the point where the fear itself is unhealthy, but the more I study this subject - from a variety of sources and perspectives - the more the organic argument does make sense to me.
I’ve built my career in fitness based on being a natural bodybuilder, which means no steroids or performance enhancing drugs, so why would I expose myself to other chemicals if I can avoid them?
Honestly, I can't say I noticed any dramatic change in my physique or in the way I feel – at least not yet. I have always eaten clean and I was a successful bodybuilder for many years before I started eating more organic food and grass fed beef.
However, I feel confident about my decision to spend the extra money on grass fed beef, free range chicken (and eggs), and an increasing amount of organic food, knowing that I am avoiding toxins and getting more of the nutritional value I need to support my training and my health long term.
I'm certain this is the type of nutritional lifestyle change that can accrue benefits over time, even if you don't see an immediate "transformation."
One thing I would suggest before you run out for organic fruits and vegetables or grass fed beef and so on, is to consider what kind of shape your diet and your lifestyle are in right now. If your diet is currently such a total mess that you’re drinking a lot of alcohol, smoking, abusing coffee and stimulants, not even eating ANY fruits and vegetables to begin with...
And if your idea of lean protein is the processed lunch meat you get in your foot long sub at the local deli, then I think it might be a little moot to worry about whether your fruits and veggies are 100% certified organic or whether your beef is grass fed. Just start cleaning up your diet and establishing new healthy habits, one step at a time. Focus on nutrition and lifestyle improvement, not perfection.
There are some very strong opinions on this subject. I am aware of that, and I'm not going to stand up on a pulpit and preach either way. What I have done here is simply share what I have found from my own research and what I decided to do in my own personal health and bodybuilding regimen.
My advice to everyone else is to become educated about what is really in your food, including how it is raised or grown, and to continuously seek ways to improve your nutrition above the level it’s at now.
Fat Loss Coach