Feast or Famine - # 341
By Jacqui Hartley, Associate Editor
In an age when grocery-store shelves are brimming with thousands upon thousands of items, and each food seems to have at least five similar-but-slightly-different versions, it’s a challenge to know what the best choices are for your hard-earned muscles. Look around any supermarket and you’ll see product labels with the words certified organic, grass-fed, free-range, naturally grown, pesticide-free and hormone-free, just to name a few. But are these products nutritionally superior to their conventional counterparts, or is the terminology just a marketing tool to make you think you’re getting more healthful foods but for a higher price? And what about canned, frozen and prepackaged foods? They may be convenient, but at what expense to your body?
When shopping for bodybuilding foods, it’s important to determine that your choices are based first and foremost on nutrition and not on eye-catching labels or quick-and-easy options. You’ve been in the iron game long enough to know how crucial proper nutrition is to successful bodybuilding, and you want to fuel your body with the best foods possible. So let MuscleMag help you separate fact from fiction and quality products from those that will only sabotage your diet (and your wallet).
It’s no secret that bodybuilders need high amounts of protein on a daily basis to feed muscle tissue and support growth, so meats and fish are dietary staples. The four basic product types you’ll find for this food group are fresh, frozen, canned and packaged slices or portions. Let’s see how each one stacks up.
• Fresh and Frozen — On a macronutrient level, fresh and frozen meats and fish are often comparable. Commercial freezing is a technique used to preserve foods, effectively locking in nutrient value. In 1998, the FDA approved the use of the word “healthy” on frozen-product labels according to the same protocol as raw items. In the official document the FDA noted, “The nutrient profiles of selected items … revealed relatively equivalent nutrient profiles.” However, the fresh versus frozen comparison tilts back in favor of fresh meats and fish when you consider that many frozen products contain preservatives or sauces. Even some products labeled “plain” have been presoaked in salt (a common preservative) before freezing. Items frozen with flavorful sauces such as teriyaki, barbecue, and sweet and sour may sound appetizing, but the meat is drenched in additives and preservatives that can actually destroy certain nutrients in the food and give rise to other health problems.
• Canned and Packaged — When you consider that fresh, raw meats and fish can usually be stored in the fridge for just 3–4 days, it makes you wonder what’s added to canned and packaged ready-to-eat versions to extend their best before dates. The airtight feature itself prolongs shelf life, but most cans and vacuum-sealed or plastic packets contain much more than just the meat or fish — they’re loaded with additives and preservatives. For example, fresh sockeye salmon contains 80 milligrams of sodium in a 6-ounce serving whereas the same amount of canned sockeye salmon contains 612 milligrams of sodium. That’s just over 25% of the recommended dietary allowance. While these extra ingredients are supposed to help maintain the quality and flavor, they introduce artificial agents and chemicals into your diet that can interfere with natural absorption of minerals, vitamins and other key nutrients.
If you venture next to the produce section, you’ll see that one of the main comparisons to be made is between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables. Now, it’s standard practice (we hope) to rinse any and all produce before consumption. Many people are satisfied that doing so cleans off any remaining pesticide or crop spray residues, fertilizer and other chemicals that may be on the skins of non-organic produce. But have you ever wondered if what’s inside those fruits and veggies is any more or less nutritious than its organic version? A recent study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine compared the nutrient content of organic and conventional crops using statistical methods to identify significant differences. What researchers found was that the organic crops had a higher nutrient content in more than half of the comparisons. On average, the organic crops had a higher content of four significant micronutrients: vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. Furthermore, the findings illustrated that there appears to be higher amounts of nutritionally significant minerals in organic compared to non-organic crops. The organic ones had a higher mean mineral content for all 21 minerals considered in the analysis.
Swing your grocery cart by the dairy section before heading to the checkout, and you’ll see that deciding between skim and 1% isn’t the only choice you’re faced with. Organic milk products have become a popular alternative to regular milk, despite the fact that organic milk is almost twice the price. While there are pros to the organic varieties, many consumers wonder if this milk actually “does a body good” or whether the advertising is more a cash grab than a nutritional guarantee. According to the USDA, in order to be labeled certified organic, the milk must meet four criteria:
• No harmful pesticides or fertilizers on the feed the cows eat.
• No bovine growth hormones to increase milk production.
• No antibiotics.
• Cows must have access to pasture (though this leaves a lot of room for interpretations, like the free-range livestock/poultry).
A significant plus for organic milk comes from a new study in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture. The data notes that cows allowed to graze naturally produced milk that contained significantly higher levels of fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins than regular dairy cows on a trough-feed diet. Interestingly, during the summer months, conjugated linoleic acid (a beneficial fatty acid) was 60% higher in organic when compared to regular milk. For bodybuilders, this is an important finding, as CLA is known to aid fat loss by limiting how much fat is taken into the body’s stores while at the same time boosting metabolism to burn more stored bodyfat.