Better health through a changed diet: How food impacts our wellbeing
How much does the food we eat affect our health?
Can the food we eat make us healthy or unhealthy?
Does it really matter how food is grown?
The answer to these questions cuts close to each one of us.
Our youngest son Nathan always had a bit of a weak stomach. He would often get stomach aches that took a few hours to go away. However, when he turned 13, it got much worse. He had the flu. Then he caught a stomach bug. After all that was over, his health continued to deteriorate
One in three days, he would wake up with extreme stomach pain. He would curl up on the couch for a few hours till it passed, then would be in a brain fog for hours afterward. He missed 45 days of school at the end of his 8th grade year. He lost weight and became visibly gaunt. We would wake up every morning wondering if today would be a good day or a bad one. The stress weighed on all of us as we arranged our lives around Nathan’s health. We came to dread the phone calls from the school to pick up Nathan because he was sick. Even family vacations became a struggle of trying to do things when he was well and resting when he was sick.
During this time, as we searched for answers, we visited a dozen different specialists in 4 hospital systems. They drew blood, ran tests, and poked and prodded every part of his body. Invariably, at the end of the appointment the answer was the same: “His liver/spleen/intestines/gallbladder/heart/kidneys are functioning correctly. Does he have any friends in school? Maybe you need to stop babying him so much so that he stops pretending to be sick.” No doctor took the time to move beyond the prescribed testing to probe what was really going on, and when they couldn’t figure it out they blamed the victim. We were increasingly frustrated as Nathan became malnourished and no one would acknowledge that there was a problem.
We finally ended up at a wellness clinic with a chiropractor who focused on human health. He looked at the stack of blood tests we brought and after a thorough interview suggested a change in diet plus supplements. Nathan was to cut out gluten, dairy, and starches, even though his blood tests said he was not allergic to any of these things. We were dubious about the approach, but willing to try anything.
Within a week on this diet, Nathan radically improved. In two months, he gained 20 pounds. As he felt better, we began adding foods back into his diet. Eventually, we discovered that even though his blood tests show no gluten intolerance, he could not eat foods made with conventionally grown and processed wheat.
It was only through this process of identifying what was happening to Nathan that I began to really understand that the food we eat affects our health. As a farmer it was profoundly humbling to realize that the way we grow food could be making people sick.
The variety and production methods of food affects the health of the body it feeds. Our food system has concentrated on making more food cheaply with no regard for the implications for human health. The industrial approach to farming has resulted in a chemical shortcut for every natural process that often leaves us with unhealthy food-like substances that we mistake for healthy food.
Wheat varieties grown because they produce a lot of bushels in a chemical fertilizer environment and then commercially processed will have a different effect on the body than an old world variety grown naturally and processed in a stone mill. Bodies like my son Nathan’s have a violent reaction to this type of grain, but other people can get a low grade inflammation that goes undiagnosed for years and leads to chronic illness.
Grass fed beef has a different nutrient profile than grain fed feedlot beef. While you can actually taste the difference between the two types of meat, there are also real health benefits that come from each animal being able to balance its own diet with various plants found in the pasture. Each individual animal is much healthier which leads to beef with a far more diverse nutrient profile.
Pasture raised eggs have a much different nutrient density than confinement house raised eggs. Once again, the chicken is able to actually go outdoors and balance its own diet on the pasture. Their yolks are noticeably orange and more nutrient rich.
Since Nathan’s illness, we have spoken with so many people who have similar health struggles. Because conventional agriculture, food processors and medicine fail to recognize the importance of how food is grown, they suffer in silence. Conventional medicine treats them with pharmaceuticals to mask their symptoms but not solve the problems. The health crisis we see today is deeply connected to a lack of healthy food.
Most importantly, Nathan’s illness and subsequent cure have solidified our commitment to growing healthy food. While we can’t change public policy, we CAN grow the healthiest food possible on our farm. We can commit to doing everything in our power to see that our food makes people's lives and health better. And we can provide this food directly to people who are concerned about the health of their food.
I would love to hear about your food health journey, leave a comment below to get the conversation started.
Want to learn more?
Read this blog post to learn more about how we grow food you can trust here at Red Hill Farms.