In your never ending quest for safe foods for your family while here in China, have you ever considered buying only organic foods? How about becoming vegetarian? These options may have seemed unlikely before China for some of you, but many expats choose these options as a natural conclusion to their search for balance and health. But does either option truly provide a healthier alternative? I’d like to offer my medical and personal opinion.
Becoming a vegetarian and choosing to give up most or all meats is a major lifestyle change, but many who do swear that they feel much healthier and energetic. I personally love meat and would have a tough time giving it up completely, but I have started to think twice about the massive environmental impact from raising animals, especially cows. I am not convinced that all ‘red meat’ is as bad as some say, but certainly our modern Western diet is greatly imbalanced with heart diseases we never had before as hunter-gatherers of grains and vegetables. And one major dietary shift over the last hundred years has clearly involved much more intake of meats and much less fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. Most animals are now bred unnaturally on massive agro-farms, often with hormones to fatten quickly and corn fed instead of natural pasture feeding. And quite a few doctors, supported by research, feel that we now eat far more omega 6 fats in meats instead of the much more heart healthy omega 3 from traditional plant, fish and nuts. And it’s this unbalanced omega 3:6 ratio which is now considered a major contributor to heart disease.
All this is a major factor why I now like the Meatless Monday campaign and thus try to avoid meats at least one day a week. This campaign was started by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and has slowly spread via word of mouth. You can find good information at their website at meatlessmonday.com, including recipes for kids, restaurant tips and easy to read handouts. I think this is a relatively painless way to get your family to break out of the cooking routine and also to discuss healthier lifestyle choices. It’s also a great test run to see whether you’d truly be interested in going further in exploring vegan and vegetarian options.
Organic food is the other hot food topic for many of us. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a statement on organics for kids, which should be a must read for parents. The AAP report concluded that organic food is not generally more nutritious than conventional food, and most kids do not benefit from an all-organic diet. This may surprise many of you! And while organic diet clearly lowered a child’s blood levels of pesticides, the AAP didn’t state this was automatically better for health as the best study results weren’t too clear on this. Some foods such as corn and onions typically don’t have much pesticides but apples and grapes have a lot, so those two especially should be bought organic if possible. They also felt that organic milk had no proven benefits over conventional, but theoretically drinking milk from antibiotic-free cows may help decrease antibiotic resistance, which is fast becoming an alarming problem worldwide.
While this AAP report may actually be reassuring to some, don’t forget that their conclusions are based on the American marketplace and farming culture. My personal feeling is that the pesticide use, chemical problems and antibiotic overuse here in China are far more serious than in the USA, and it makes more sense here to buy organics here if possible. Forget about the nutrition issue: do it to minimize exposure to toxins.