What Happened When I Gave Up Organic (and did this one thing that completely changed my health)
The journey towards health is unique to every individual and should ideally be undertaken with a physician. I must preface that I’m not a doctor! All I can do is offer up a map of my own health quest through food and habit modifications; hopefully my path resonates.
Since I was 18 years old I’ve been plagued by varying levels of IBS and hypothyroidism. I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s so, without blame, I must highlight that I grew up with a healthy dose of cheesy pasta (both the instant and home cooked varieties), Sprite on tap (my dad was a playful engineer), peanut butter and jelly on white bread and boxed cereals. To be honest, I could eat cereal all day, multiple times a day. Contrary to what some may think, this diet didn’t affect my mental health or my weight. I was relatively happy-go-lucky.
Then without warning I developed odd ailments in my late teens, which included cystic acne, IBS, hypothyroidism and asthma. I had a series of tests done: blood tests, colonoscopy, etc. and in the end it was determined that whatever my issue was I should simply ‘eat more organic.’ Unbeknownst to me, my decades long journey with health had started. My grandmother gave me my first health book, Ultraprevention, and despite being a poor student I was checking out the health food aisles for the first time.
I could write a book filled with the trials, missteps, taste bud transformations and all the like which ensued. But, I’d rather cut to the chase and let you know that within a year of my first diet change I no longer had IBS and it never came back. At that time the main adjustment I made was removing hydrolyzed oils and corn syrup from my diet. It was a small change with a significant impact, likely because most heavily processed products contained one or both. [Today organic and non organic products contain other ingredients which I avoid, such as Maltodextrin / Dextrose, but let’s stick to the story at hand].
My pocket book was hurting, but it was worth it because I could enjoy my meals during and long after I had finished them. I became a healthy weight and my acne disappeared. But, despite all my efforts I could never normalize my thyroid levels.
Organic food was there for me in those early days because it made shopping easier since the food I bought was often less processed. However, today I no longer rely on the organic label the way I once did. Instead, specific food type reductions have been my go to approach for over 10 years as I discern the things that make my body tick — or inflame. For example, my daughter is Celiac so I reduced my gluten intake to help her feel less alone I marveled when I noticed that I rarely felt fatigued the way I once did. I still eat gluten, just less frequently. If I bought a bag of chips (organic or otherwise) and broke out in a rash, I would check the ingredients and see the name of things like Maltodextrin then try the food again in a few days to see if I could repeat the outcome. If it was repeatable, then I would add that to my list of reductions.
It’s possible doing something small can potentially result in far reaching outcomes for your health.
I want to stress that I would not forbid the ingredient, but instead work hard to reduce my exposure. During the week I try to consume things that don’t inflame. Then on the weekends I can be more free and hope that my body builds up a tolerance. I’ve been proud of my overall ‘health through food’ journey, but the goal to achieve a normal thyroid level through food remained elusive to me… until I relegated to believing that a natural TSH level of 5 was healthier than a TSH of 12 (which I had jumped to temporarily after each pregnancy, the last being in 2010).
Until January 2020 arrived and I made the resolution to try reducing something new with the goal of not having pneumonia or bronchitis that season. I was curious if a reduction of this food would might reduce inflammation and have a measurable impact on my health in general. I had no idea there was an upper respiratory pandemic on the horizon. I had no idea this decision would likely save my life. What was this resolution?
Simple at first, but with far yielding effects, I had decided to give up added sugar during the winter months. This was not giving up carbs, which I still eat in the form of rice, potatoes and fruit. This was strictly added sugars of all kinds.
Now, for a kid who grew up with sugar in almost every drink and meal, I can tell you this was not an easy decision! At this point I had spent 20 years allowing myself to have 1 dessert a day (although that dessert was often with fancy cane sugar or agave, etc.) as my host mother told me while studying abroad in Germany, ‘something sweet each day is good for the soul!’ To focus on the positive, having spent my adult life limited to just one dessert a day was also a huge step from having had added sugar at every meal during my childhood.
Again, I do not practice complete elimination of food, only reduction. But, the reality was that each winter my upper respiratory infections were chronic and intensifying; and not being able to breathe during an illness is simply terrifying. So the experimental resolution to reduce added sugar commenced, along with the caveat that I could have dessert twice during the weekend rather than everyday of the week. After 3 months on this restriction I was diagnosed with possible Covid. And, while I did labor to breathe, I was able to manage my symptoms better than I had the previous year with pneumonia.
Keep in mind that my blood sugar levels before this resolution were always normal, pregnant or otherwise. Remarkably, after just a few months the effects from restricting this ONE food (sugar) made me stick with the resolution:
- My hand no longer fell asleep while I was sleeping
- My dental hygienist for 10 years was in awe when my gum levels went from a 3 to 1!
- The sciatic nerve pain I inconsistently experienced from time to time in my hip never reappeared
- I did not suffer an upper respiratory infection this recent winter season, despite my asthma
- The phantom pain in the area I suffered a torn ligament went away
- My friend, who followed the diet with me, no longer has sleep apnea
- And last, but certainly not least, for the first time in 20 years my hypothyroid TSH, T3 and T4 levels returned to within normal range without medication
Which brings me to my conclusion about organic food. I think today’s organic products can sometimes contain inflammatory ingredients, just like nonorganic foods. But, perhaps what organic did most for me without my awareness was that it began reducing my sugar intake — and slowly, slowly changing those 1990’s sugar lusting taste-buds! This is because organic counterparts can sometimes contain 1/3 less sugar than nonorganic varieties.
In the future, I hope to write more about my food habits, including the types of products I use and how I avoid counting calories or depriving myself! For now, my goal is to share the miracle that it’s possible doing something as small as timing (when to have that much deserved slice of cake) can potentially result in far reaching outcomes for your health.
To all our health!