Sustainable agriculture is a way of growing or raising food, including animals, in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner using practices that protect the environment, safeguard human health, are humane to farm animals, and provide fair treatment to workers. Eating “sustainably” means eating food that is grown or raised according to these principles.
Eating sustainably provides numerous personal health benefits, including decreased exposure to harmful substances such as pesticides, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and unhealthful food additives, and the potential to increase consumption of certain nutrients and antioxidants. Finally, eating sustainably means that you are supporting a more environmentally and socially responsible food system. A win-win situation!
Eating sustainably-grown unprocessed (or minimally processed) food, such as whole grains, legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables, has a number of health benefits, including decreased total cholesterol levels, decreased risk of certain cancers, increased colon function, and increased intake of important nutrients and minerals. Eating meat, eggs, and dairy products from pastured animals also has health benefits when these products are consumed in moderation.
Although increasing intake of fruit, vegetables, and grain in general is important, there is some evidence that sustainably grown fruit, vegetables, and grains are higher in nutrients. This is related to several factors, including the ways in which the food was grown, harvested, and transported.
Organic production improves soil health, which in turn improves plants' root systems and the ability to absorb vital nutrients. In addition, organic fertilizers provide a wider range of micronutrients that the plant can take up through its root system. For example, a recent study demonstrated that organically grown tomatoes have higher levels of flavonoids, potent antioxidants found in plants. Other studies have found higher levels of several antioxidants in many varieties of organically grown fruits and vegetables and lower levels of important nutrients, such as vitamin C, in fruits and vegetables grown using commercial nitrogen-based fertilizers.