3 Reasons You Should Care About Soil (For Your Health!)
At mindbodygreen, we're champions of adding more plants to your plate. We consider it a major win any time you eat more fruits or vegetables. However, if it fits within your budget and lifestyle, shopping organic can provide higher value not only for the planet but for your overall health since organic foods are typically grown in healthy, nutrient-rich soil.
Just take it from geologist David R. Montgomery, Ph.D., and biologist Anne Biklé, husband-and-wife duo and co-authors of What Your Food Ate: How To Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health: "Farming practices affect the health of the soil; the health of the soil affects the health of crops; the health of crops affects the health of livestock; and all of the above translates into human health," Montgomery says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
Below, Montgomery and Biklé share the top three reasons to eat organically grown food, if it's accessible to you:
1. More phytochemicals.
Healthier, more nutrient-rich soil begets more phytochemicals (or compounds produced by plants), which come with a load of health benefits. Traditionally grown crops have the essential macronutrients you need to survive (carbs, fat, protein), but according to Montgomery, "Those are things we need to live, not to thrive." He continues: "The things that we need to thrive are micronutrients and phytochemicals, things that help our bodies run well, things that promote our health."
Now, many people think phytochemicals like polyphenols and other potent antioxidants are produced when a plant undergoes environmental stressors—this is certainly true, but you can't manufacture those environments (like pest pressure or UV exposure) and expect the plant to grow phytochemicals. Rather, it's important to think about the whole plant story: "You want a plant to be living how plants are supposed to live because that imbues them with high levels of phytochemicals," notes Biklé. "And for that, you want soil health."
2. Better flavor.
Yes, soil can affect the flavor of your food. Biklé says that your taste buds are naturally drawn to more nutrient-dense items. She references a study in the journal Science where researchers were trying to assess the best-tasting tomato. "They gathered people together and fed them two different kinds of tomatoes," she recounts. "One was called the 'Floradade,' a cultivar created back in the '70s [that was] bred for shipping and convenience." They compared that tomato to another small, cherry-type option that closely resembled a wild tomato.
"Everybody rejected the Floradade, and they liked the other one," Biklé notes. And when researchers took a peek at the cherry tomato's flavor profile, they noticed that it had an abundance of phytochemicals and amino acids (whereas the floradade didn't), which likely explains why people were drawn to this type of tomato.
"The things that our body is hankering for are actually the things that are the most nutrient-dense," Biklé adds. "Terrific flavor equals nutrition, and our bodies have wisdom."
3. More omega-3s.
We've waxed poetic on the importance of omega-3s for your overall health—they're crucial for immunity, brain health, heart health, eye health, and more. While their levels vary a lot, grass-fed beef is a non-vegetarian option to consume these omega-3s, including ALA, EPA, and DHA. How so? Well, according to Biklé, you are what your food eats; so if a cow is grazing on a plant-based diet, "their diet is really rich in omega-3s because omega-3s are in leafy, living kinds of plants," she notes. (They're a fundamental part of photosynthesis, Biklé explains. "[They] help the plant capture light energy and turn it into energy that's growing the plant.")
Cows that are cornfed, however, are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which are not so great for your health when consumed in excess—research suggests the optimal balance is a 2:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. That said, "If you're going to eat meat and dairy products, switch over to grass-fed, because of the levels of omega-3s in animals raised that way," Biklé says. Of course, not all organic beef is also grass-fed, so you'll want to keep an eye out for both labels if you can.
At the end of the day, adding more fruits and vegetables to your daily menu is never a bad idea. However, if you have access to organic food, you might want to think about making the switch whenever possible. As Montgomery notes: "What's good for the land is good for us, too."