(U-WIRE) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – On Sunday, you could have gone to the grocery store down the street and bought a pound of strawberries for $1.99, or you could have gone to the La Monta�ita Co-op on Carlisle Boulevard and Central Avenue and paid almost twice as much — $3.69 — for the same amount of organic strawberries, which are grown without synthetic pesticides. A year and a half ago, I wouldn't have considered paying so much more for the same thing. I didn't think much about what I ate. Then the unthinkable happened. My physically fit 54-year-old mother was diagnosed with late-stage colon caner. After enduring months of radiation and chemotherapy and after having the affected section of her intestine removed, she is almost back to normal. I, however, am not.
What I found out about colon cancer and our nation's food supply has changed the way I eat. It turns out this country has an abundance of food, but most of it is of poor quality, especially when it comes to grains, the staple of many people's diets.
Most grains have much of their nutritional value, including their fiber, processed out of them before they become our breads, pasta and rice. This has major dietary consequences. The major fiber deficiency that results from our over-processed diets makes colon cancer the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in America.
On the other hand, the disease is rare in many nonindustrialized areas of the world where people eat whole grains. Why does eating enough fiber reduce the risk for colon cancer? With a high-fiber diet, food moves through the digestive system cleanly and efficiently. With a low-fiber diet, scientists think our digested food hangs out in the colon a little too long, overexposing the organ walls to cancer-causing toxins. I know – it's not pleasant. The first change I made was to eat whole grains as much as possible: Oatmeal, whole-grain porridge, 100 percent whole-wheat bread and tortillas and brown rice are the essentials. If you make a change to a whole-grain diet, you'll be surprised at how quickly you come to prefer whole grain foods to the bland, insubstantial processed foods you once ate.
You'll also be surprised at how difficult it is to find healthy food outside of a natural foods grocery store. It's next to impossible when eating out and tricky even in the conventional supermarket. The second change I made was to reduce the number of toxins hanging around in my colon in the first place. Though many of them are inevitable byproducts of digestion itself, some can be avoided by buying organic foods, which are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones.
Agricultural and chemical companies have gone to great lengths to convince the public that conventionally grown foods pose no risks, endlessly claiming the need for more evidence before passing judgment. However, each of the top six most heavily used pesticides in the United States in 2001 have been associated with the growth of cancer cells in lab animals or humans. A 2002 study found conventional produce was six times more likely than organic produce to contain multiple pesticide residues. In the face of consistent and mounting evidence against the safety of so many synthetic pesticides, it seems silly to wait until all the evidence is in before going organic. And it's not just conventional produce that poses cancer risks. If you buy nonorganic milk, it could very well have come from cows that have been injected with rBGH, a growth hormone that increases milk yields by 10 to 15 percent.
The only problem is, it also produces milk with high levels of a hormone linked to the development of breast and colon cancer. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the toxins, hormones and carcinogens in our nation's food supply. It can be hard to know exactly which warnings are legitimate, but one thing is certain: Buying organic will substantially reduce your consumption of carcinogens and other harmful chemicals. After a year and a half of paying higher prices for organic food, it's become no big deal. You'll get used to it, and your body will eventually thank you for shelling out the extra buck and a half for carcinogen-free strawberries.