Where Your Food Comes from Matters
It can feel like there's a lot to think about when it comes to our nutrition - but often where our food comes from and the quality of our choices can either be low on the list or forgotten about all together. So, does it even matter where our food comes from? Ancient + Brave makes it no secret that provenance of our ingredients matters deeply to us - not just because we care about the planet but also for the positive health of the humans who live on it. In this article we take a closer look at why this matters and what we can do to ensure it’s absolutely on our optimal nutrition wish-list.
Many would argue that we are incredibly lucky to have an abundance of foods on our supermarket shelves; thanks to the ease and convenience of shopping, it has never been more effortless to find everything from speciality foods to everyday staples. In fact, in recent years we have gone one step further; with just a click of a button, bags of shopping can appear on our doorstep. This is great if utilised well; for one, we can fit eating fresh and healthy foods into our busy lives. We can also massively diversify our diets. However the more troublesome side to this can mean that highly processed foods with a low nutrient density are even easier to obtain than ever before. The impact of this on our health and our planet's health is potentially huge.
Let’s take a moment to remember our ancestral nature; we are made to hunt and gather, so it could be argued that skipping this step is creating more issues, rather than helping out our health. We are more sedentary than ever before, more likely to overeat thanks to the hyperpalatable foods available to us, more likely to graze and snack providing the body with more energy, yet less nutrients than it needs. It’s super important to remember at this point that this food environment is largely in the hands of legislators and manufacturers, rather than laying the blame with the common consumer. We shouldn’t shame ourselves into thinking we are at the root of it all, and yet we are not completely helpless either.
Just as important as making healthier food choices is also thinking about where and how the plants we eat are grown, where and how our animals and fish are raised, where the ingredients from any processed foods or supplements come from and the processing method too. Some of us can’t do this all the time, but when we can, we should.
The UPF upward trend
Unfortunately, the UK population is on a fast upward trend when it comes to chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, depression, obesity and cancers. Another upward trajectory alongside this is the amount of ready made convenience foods and ‘food-like-substances’ we are buying straight from the supermarkets. Where we once looked to the amount of macros, fat, salt or sugar we as a population were eating, current thinking is that these multi-ingredient Ultra-Processed Foods (UPF’s) and the amount we are consuming, are to blame.
You may be thinking that you rarely eat junk food so this isn’t a huge problem, and yet sadly everyday foods which were once minimally processed such as breads, cereals, pasta sauces, plant-based milks and low-fat yogurts, have been reformulated to such a degree that many are much more ultra-processed than we realise. The foods we find on the shelves are more likely to have been created by food scientists who must favour budget, shelf-life and flavour over nutritional value. In fact many food manufacturers have completely hijacked our taste buds by creating perfectly additive tastes and textures thanks to their skills in the food labs.
Even when nutrition is considered through fortification of vitamins and minerals, food manufacturers and many supermarket-brand supplements often use the least bioavailable forms of these nutrients to keep costs as low as possible.
‘You are what the food you eat, eats!’
Nature perfectly designed plants to grow in soil, for cows to eat grass and for fish to swim in the wild. In ecology, the trophic level is the position that an organism occupies in a food chain - what it eats, and what eats it. We have lived this trophic system for millennia, involving the synergistic relationship between sunlight, plants, animals, water and microorganisms allowing the distribution of nutrients available to us to work in sync with our unique biology.
Unbeknown to many doing their weekly food shop, lots of salad veggies are now grown hydroponically and haven't had a chance to reap the benefits of nutrient rich soil. Many animals are grain-fed or given antibiotics as their immune system is unsurprisingly not up to the task in hand thanks to the intensive farming conditions they undergo. Not only is there a huge ethical challenge here but also the understanding that the diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality and healthfulness of the food itself. And it isn’t just our health that’s being affected:
- Overfishing is having an impact on local fishing communities & fish stocks (1)
- The planet is experiencing loss of natural habits from land clearance for farming (2)
- A rise in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals thanks to high level use of antibiotics
- Food is grown and shipped globally which is causing increased food miles (3)
- Further damage to local environments and depletion of some nutrients from chemical fertiliser and pesticide use
- Steep decline in insect populations affecting our food supply and ecosystem (4)
There’s no doubt that organic ingredients provide many benefits, especially when it comes to environmental concerns. In terms of nutrition, there are also some studies (5) that suggest fresh organic produce also supplies higher micronutrient levels especially with vitamin C, magnesium and iron as well as protective phytochemicals such as anthocyanins.
In terms of animal products, organic meat and milk are said to be richer in nutrients with a better balance of omega-3 fatty acids with levels as high as 50 per cent more than that of conventionally reared livestock (6).
Organic practices importantly look to focus on improving the health of the soil which is critical for nutrient density, encourages biodiversity, wildlife and respects the delicate ecological balance.
A major issue for many people however is the rising costs of living, making organic produce a luxury item for some households. Part of the reason for the higher price tag is the cost of production, labour intensive methods for pest and weed control and smaller overall output from these often small farms.
When this is the case, there are some ways to decide where best to spend your budget. When it comes to animal products such as meat, dairy and even collagen, try to choose grass-fed, pasture-raised organic whenever possible. It's more of an investment, but ideally you will eat less meat overall and more plant-based foods which is great for our health and the quality of the produce will make all the difference.
Fruits and vegetables can also be carefully chosen. The Environmental Working Group have devised an annual assessment of the twelve vegetables and fruits containing the highest amount of pesticides (called the ‘dirty dozen’) and fifteen of the lowest (the ‘clean 15’). This can help guide you which to try and buy organic most often.
It is extremely important to understand however that even non-organic foods like fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes and eggs are all very much nutrient dense and essential for our health and well-being and should be included if organic food is not an option. Many small local producers cannot in fact afford the cost of an organic certification and yet adopt organic practices, so buying locally and seasonally can be an excellent choice too. Our Cacao + Collagen and Coffee + Collagen are both certified organic and we source a beautiful Brazilian Santos coffee and Peruvian raw cacao.
Whether you decide to buy organic or not, understanding the provenance of your food or supplements is an extremely powerful tool to support your health.
Top tips to support your health and the environment through food provenance:
- Order a local weekly vegetable, fruit and/or meat box
- Check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list (7)
- Buy local whenever you can to cut the distance your food has to travel and help you to eat seasonally
- When eating out try restaurants that are proud about provenance
- Avoid processed products where you are unclear on what the ingredients are
- Try to grow something yourself! Whether it’s a small herb garden on your kitchen window, an allotment or your garden
- Seasonality is also important - look for seasonal lists of veggies and fruits to eat (or notice what is in fresh abundance in the supermarket!)