Grass Fec chicken

Free range chicken, simple choice

We are constantly bombarded with mixed messages about which food choices are healthy and which aren’t.

Here’s how to keep it simple. Nurture Nature It’s all been about flip flops,” a friend said to me recently over coffee. And while you’d think we’d been discussing summer fashion must-haves, the topic on the table was food, and how for the past decade, what we’ve been told is good and bad for us, has gone back and forth more times than Charlie Sheen’s been in and out of rehab.

So how do you decide what’s really best for you and your family? I think the best way to tackle this debate is to go back to basics. Let’s look at the meaning behind different farming methods, and why the term “organic farming” is so much more than the latest trend du jour.

What’s the difference between organic farming and free range?

Free range may apply to meat, chicken, eggs or dairy farming where animals are given access to the outdoors as opposed to being confined to a cage. However, as actress Eva Longoria says in her new cookbook, Eva’s Kitchen (Potter, 2010), ‘”Free range’ means only that the producer must allow the chickens access to the outdoors – it doesn’t matter that it’s an asphalt lot!” What is also not enforced is how much space animals are given to move around in. Furthermore, South African regulations allow for conventional feed to be given to free-range animals, which means both hormones and antibiotics can be used.

While there’s not yet one globally accepted definition of organic farming, there are basic principles adhered to by almost all organic farmers, namely: crop rotation, using green manure to add nutrients and biological matter to the soil, adding compost, and making use of biological pest control (natural mechanisms to control pests) to sustain soil productivity. Organic farming prohibits or strictly limits manufactured fertilisers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, food additives and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Thus, always remember that all organic produce is free-range, but not all free-range produce is necessarily organic.

What are the differences between feedlot, grain-fed, grass-fed and organic beef and free range chicken? Grain-fed cattle start out as grass-fed cattle and are then moved into feedlots where they’re fed grain, which is an unnatural diet for them. Feedlots are a much cheaper way to farm cattle. Due to the overcrowding in feedlots, the cows are more likely to become sick, so they’re given routine antibiotics to prevent disease. Feedlot cattle are also given growth hormones to fatten them up quicker, so that they reach slaughter weight faster.

Grass-fed cattle are raised on pastures, are usually smaller, they grow more slowly, and have a lower slaughter weight. While grass-fed cows are usually raised without antibiotics or hormones, this is not always the case. Organic beef comes from cows that have been raised on an organically grown, vegetarian diet free from antibiotics. If the hay and grass in a cow’s diet is organic, then the beef is both organic and grass-fed.

“Organic food is more expensive, but when you buy a chemically produced product, there’s a cost you’re not paying at the till – an environmental and health cost.”

Reasons to go organic

  • It really is healthier for all. Foetuses and growing children are naturally more vulnerable to pesticide exposure. This can cause developmental delays, behavioural disorders and motor dysfunction. Pregnant women are also at an increased risk because of the extra burden that pesticides place on their already stressed organs. Pesticides can also be passed from Mom to Baby in the womb, as well as through breast milk. Sometimes there can be delayed effects on the nervous system, even years after the initial exposure. Also, imagine the threat they pose to the farm worker, who’s exposed to large quantities daily.
  • The environment is in desperate need of TLC. Soil is one of the most important elements of farming. Chemically intensive, mono-crop farming means that topsoil is being severely eroded. Organic farming eliminates the use of hazardous chemicals and nitrogen leaching into our soil, water and air; instead, it preserves and builds the soil, and protects and conserves water resources.
  • Think about the animals. Organic farming aims to give animals permanent access to open air, suitable pasture and forage for nutritional and behavioural needs, the banning of permanent tethering (tying up) or isolation of animals, and proper bedding and litter. It also prohibits slatted floors in resting areas, and restricts or limits the removal of tails, beaks and horns from the animals.
  • It’s the freshest you’ll get. As organic food doesn’t contain any additives or preservatives, it has a shorter shelf life than regular produce.

What about the higher cost of organic food?

Konrad Hauptfleisch, Chief Operations Officer of  Bryanston Organic & Natural Market, says: “If you go into any large retailer or even our market, you’ll find a premium on organic produce. Organic food is more expensive because there are certain costs involved in producing it, and possibly even a lower yield. However, when you buy a chemically produced product, there’s a cost you’re not paying at the till – an environmental and health cost. Research done in the UK shows that if you compare the real cost of conventionally produced products in terms of medical bills and the cost to the country in addressing health issues related to pesticides and certain intolerances, then the organic produce premium disappears. But when someone’s looking at affordability on the day, they don’t consider that they’ll be spending more money in time because their child may have developed a condition related to a certain product.

“There’s also a supply and demand issue. If everyone produces organic, the costs will come down. So, it’s part of the mission of the organic sector to make it affordable and available to all The public must become aware, too – they need to tell their larger retailers that they want organic produce.”

In the meantime, if you have to choose the more important organic products to buy, Cape Town-based paediatric dietician Katherine Megaw says: “I would initially focus on organically farmed chicken, eggs and beef before fresh produce. Wash or peel non-organic produce, and choose fruit and vegetables in season. This means your exposure to the chemicals that delay ripening, prolong shelf life, preserve colour and so on, will be limited.”

Buying organic milk is also important because on conventional dairy farms, any hormones or medication given to cows to enhance milk production will transfer to the milk, meaning you’ll ingest whatever has been given to the cow. If organic isn’t an option, Konrad says “go for free range rather than anything else, but you’re not guaranteed of fewer additives, hormones or antibiotics.”

What are the ‘red flag’ chemicals to watch out for?

Be wary of ingredient names that look like they belong in a chemistry textbook and have serial numbers. These names and numbers (e.g. E951 or E123) denote substances that have been added to food.”

Cape Town-based paediatric dietician Lee-Anne McHarry says: “Some children will react to certain food additives with skin irritations, eczema or even urticaria (hives). Some may have breathing difficulties, especially those who already have asthma. There’s some data which indicates that children who are hyperactive become more hyperactive when their diets consist of foods containing food additives.

“The most common food additives are the colourings tartrazine (E102), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), ponceau 4R (E124), and the preservative sodium benzoate (E211). Some hyperactive children may benefit from the removal of these from their diet. These are most strongly linked to the worsening of eczema in some individuals. In some children with severe eczema, their skin will only clear up once a more basic, fresh diet is consumed where processed foods are kept to a minimum.”

Katherine points out: “There has been an increase in the last few decades in food allergies. The incidence of cow’s milk protein allergy has risen over the last 10 years, as well as preservative and additive allergies.” She explains: “A food allergy is when a food that contains a protein like milk, soya, egg, fish, etc. creates a reaction in the body like vomiting, a rash, or breathing problems. A food allergy can result in an immediate reaction or a delayed reaction of up to four days.

“An intolerance is not only created by a food protein, it can be created by a sugar e.g. lactose found in breast milk, cow’s milk and goat’s milk. An intolerance reaction is never fatal, and is normally progressive and delayed.”

What are the ‘green flag’ food choices?

Free range

Free range chicken, eggs and beef

“Keep it simple,” says Katherine. “The more instant a food is, the higher the quantities of additives and preservatives present.” Remember that fresh ingredients can be quick and easy to prepare too!

Lee-Anne advises making sure that the carbs you eat contain enough fibre. “A rough guide as to how much fibre your child (over age two years) should be eating a day is to take their age and add five (e.g. six years + five = llg of fibre per day). Look for trans-fat-free foods and lower saturated fat compared to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Eat together as a family, preferably at the table.

Include fruit and/or vegetables at each meal – the more colour, the better. This way, the whole family will be exposed to these healthy options.”

Last but not least, remember that the way we eat in childhood lays the foundation for our food habits later in life. What better reason, then, to make sure that your little ones know how to build a strong and healthy future!

via Nurture Nature – the best food choices kept simple | South Africa.