If our paleolithic ancestors had a time travel machine and could see our food system today, they would be baffled. They’d get a glimpse into grocery stores filled with produce from around the globe, endless shelves of boxes, and signs reading “organic” or “local.”
They would likely recognize very little of what we classify as food today.
You see, thousands of years ago, all of the food was organic and local. The human race thrived on grass-fed meat, freshly-caught fish, plants, nuts, and seeds. Depending on location, a sweet apple or some wild blueberries might occasionally make the menu.
“Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?”– Joel Salatin
While it might seem appealing to live in this modern world of abundance, it begs the question: at what cost? Despite access to nutritious food from around the world, Americans are sicker than ever. Chronic disease is at an all-time high, and there’s no relief in sight.
Perhaps the key to health is in simplification. Instead of overcomplicating nutrition, what if we just did our best to eat food as close to home as possible?
What does it mean to eat local?
While many of us embrace the idea of eating locally, hunting for game and foraging for foods isn’t exactly practical.
What does it mean to source foods close to home?
To eat locally means different things to different people. To date, there is no uniform definition of local. No federal governing body has determined how many miles food can travel before it is no longer local, although some states have defined the term.
Perhaps the best way to describe local food is when farmers sell directly to consumers or indirectly through regional markets, schools, co-ops, and other businesses.
Heart health benefits of eating local
The benefits of eating locally grown and raised food are vast. In addition to the economic and environmental benefits, the ramifications on health are incredible, especially when it comes to the heart.
A 2020 study gives a small glimpse into the incredible difference that eating close to home can have on the cardiovascular system. For the study, researchers randomly split healthy volunteers into two groups.
Both groups consumed the same diet, but half of the subjects obtained their food from the standard grocery store while the other half bought their food from local producers.
Researchers followed the individuals for six months and found that those who ate locally had lower blood pressure readings, lower fasting blood glucose levels, and lower insulin resistance rates- all important markers for heart disease. The study’s findings concluded that food preservatives and additives significantly impact cardiovascular health.
7 ways eating close to home benefits the heart
Local food is more nutrient-dense
When it comes to health, it truly is about the journey. This concept applies to produce as well. The moment that farmers harvest fruits or vegetables, they begin losing nutritional content.
The longer your food sits in a truck, box, or grocery store display, the greater the loss of essential vitamins and minerals.
Researchers found that the nutrients in spinach diminished by half only a week after harvest. In a more recent study, researchers found that heart-healthy trace minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium were reduced up to 80 percent during the transport of leafy vegetables.
Additionally, food that needs to travel long distances is picked before it’s fully ripe. While this makes for an attractive display at the grocery store, it cuts short its maturation process and reduces the nutritional content.
Produce is not the only food that is healthier when eaten locally. Local beef, for example, contains higher levels of vitamins, omega-3s, and conjugated linoleic acid than grocery store meat.
Studies have found that soil depletion, pollution, and other factors have significantly reduced the nutritional content of food. A healthy heart depends on access to these vital nutrients. Eating locally optimizes your essential heart-healthy vitamin and mineral intake.
Local food tastes better
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating an apple straight from the tree or a tomato right off the vine, you know just how incredible fresh food tastes.
Have you ever cracked an egg from a local, free-range hen? If so, you undoubtedly noticed the deep rich yellow yolk. These brightly colored yolks are not only a sign of the egg’s high nutritional content but also a signal of a happy hen.
Conventional produce is treated with toxic chemicals during the growing process. But did you know that some growers spray produce a second time with unhealthy pesticides, insecticides, and preservatives after harvest?
For example, you might find your apple coated in wax or your vegetables sprayed with chemicals to maintain freshness.
The taste is simply better because locally grown food retains its nutritional value and doesn’t contain tons of chemicals.
Eating locally helps you discover new foods
Many farmers offer community-sponsored agriculture (CSA), a farming model where individuals receive regular local food shares. While much of the food is recognizable, there are sometimes foods that one would not usually buy at a grocery store.
Celeriac root, kohlrabi, and garlic scapes are just a few additions that you might not know how to use. However, when presented in a CSA, individuals push past their comfort zones and find ways to enjoy new foods.
A person’s appreciation of taste and flavor, also known as their palate, is highly dependent on their willingness to try new food. Eating locally, which also means eating in season, is an excellent way to expand access to more vitamins and minerals. In addition, by diversifying the food that you eat, you improve cardiac outcomes.
Eating locally helps the earth
As a general rule, local farmers use more environmentally-sound farming practices than industrial farmers. This translates to less toxic pesticides and fertilizers in our soil, water, and air.
Well-managed farms conserve fertile soil, provide a safe habitat for wildlife, and even help reverse climate change. Regenerative organic farms work with nature to draw carbon from the atmosphere.
Through composting, crop rotation, and minimal tillage, farms have the potential to turn climate change around and save the earth.
Eating locally also reduces food miles, the distance that edibles travel from farm to plate. Foods that have a long trek, whether by airplane, truck, or train, leave a devastating effect on the environment.
As we know, environmental pollutants are a significant risk factor for heart disease.
Finally, buying food locally also significantly reduces waste. Local foods are generally sold without packaging or with environmentally-friendly packaging. In addition, most buyers bring their own bags for transport, thus reducing waste even further.
Eating locally fosters a sense of community
Social isolation and loneliness pose significant risks to the heart. In fact, data shows that feeling lonely 29 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 32 percent greater risk of stroke. Sadly, the last few years have only increased time spent online and isolated.
Getting to know your local growers, shopping at a farmer’s market, joining a CSA, or participating in a community garden, helps build meaningful human connections.
Not only do you get to know your local farmer, but you meet others who share in your desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Eating locally helps foster a sense of community that, in turn, protects your heart.
Eating locally changes your relationship with food
Many people in today’s society have a dysfunctional relationship with food. Instead of feeding hunger to achieve the goal of vibrant health, many people feed emotions.
For some, eating is a drug. And this drug, especially in the form of sugar, perpetuates a lifelong toxic relationship of addiction. Studies have found that food addiction is significantly correlated with markers of cardiovascular disease.
When you visit a local farm or farmer’s market, you begin to view food differently. Instead of being attracted to well-marketed boxes, you learn to appreciate the rainbow of colors in produce.
By building a relationship with your local farmer, you gain a deep appreciation of what goes into growing each food. By consuming food that is grown intentionally and with love, you begin to change from the inside out.
Slowly, and sometimes without realizing it, your addiction to food wanes.
Eating locally is the best way to eat as our ancient ancestors did
Modern society is sick.
Many of us are riddled with chronic diseases, living less-than-ideal lives. Despite our advanced medical system, individuals are dying faster than ever.
Our ancestors survived on wholesome, natural, organic foods. They ate with the seasons, enjoying foraged food in the warmer months and meat year-round.
On a fundamental level, our ancestors ate what was available to them. By eating locally, we mimic this healthy lifestyle.
How to source the best local food
With more than 2 million farms in the United States, you likely live within driving distance of at least a few. While large industrial farms are getting bigger and increasing production, small family farms still make up the majority.
Not all farms are created equal, however. Even small family farms may use unhealthy chemicals or farming practices. If possible, seek out a farm that practices regenerative agriculture. Regenerative farming holds the principles of caring for the health of the land, animals, and food.
The best way to get to know the farms around you is to visit them. Search online for local farmer’s markets. Talk to your local farmers and get a sense of their values. Examples of questions that you may want to ask your farmer include:
- What kind of pest control measures do you use?
- Do you use any pesticides, herbicides, or sprays?
- Do you use GMO seeds?
- What do you feed your animals?
- How are your animals raised?
- What variety of crops do you grow?
- How do you know that your farm soil is healthy?
- How long ago was this food harvested?
- Would it be possible to come and visit your farm?
- Is your food organic?
Keep in mind, some farmers follow 100 percent organic processes but do not obtain organic certification. Becoming “organic certified” is expensive and arduous, especially for small farms.
In addition to an annual review from the USDA, organic farms need to keep daily records of their farming practices, from how often they water their crops to the total hours they spend pulling weeds. As a result, many farmers have found that they can gain the trust of their community without the expensive label.
“This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.”– Joel Salatin
In this day and age, nearly everyone turns to their doctor for health advice. But perhaps Hippocrates, the father of medicine, had it right when he said, “let food be thy medicine.” Perhaps your local farmer and high-quality food is the missing link for easing your health woes and supporting your 100 Year Heart.
If you’re ready to change your relationship with food, consider taking our online Foundational Nutrition course to prepare your mind and body for great health.