The Nutritional Benefits of Engaging in Aquaponics
When most of us think about what makes healthy foods healthy, we tend to think in relative terms—for instance, an apple is better than a donut. We seldom go so far as to consider that one apple might be better than another apple, and we tend to think even less about the growing process that made them that way. However, a number of studies are showing that decisions about food growing processes have much more of an impact on our health than we previously imagined.
Agriculture is an industry just like any other. It probably won’t come as a shock that large-scale growers often go to some pretty extreme measures to keep their yields high and their plants healthy. Unfortunately, it’s also not all that surprising that the health of the crop is often maintained at the expense of the health value of the food that’s produced. What is shocking is that growers are keeping their crops healthy through techniques that have the potential to make consumers very sick.
The Dangers of Pesticides & GMOs
Insects are humans’ number one competitors for food on the planet. Insect consumption can outstrip human agricultural production by a staggering amount, as a single swarm of locusts can eat more than 400 million pounds of plant material per day. The common line of thinking is that pesticides are our first and most effective line of defense against the ravenous horde. Poisoning our own food to keep other species from eating it, however, has proven to be a little short sighted.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to all kinds of serious human ailments, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, infant mortality, birth defects and low male fertility. Pesticide residue can stay in foods even after they are washed and peeled, and even though the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has set strict limits on the types and amounts of pesticides that are permissible, there are a few other factors that come into play when it comes to your dinner plate.
Old pesticides that are no longer in use can take a long time to break down, and can still be present in growing soil years after they’ve been banned. The FDA guidelines also do not take into account the risks of exposure to multiple pesticides, mostly because such data does not yet exist. For example, eating an apple that has been exposed to Brand X pesticide and following it with a pear contaminated with Brand Y pesticide could potentially have cumulative effects.
If spraying pesticides on your food still sounds appetizing, what if the food you ate actually produced its own poison? This is what genetically modified foods (GMO’s) do, and while pesticides typically go through lengthy trials to establish an acceptable health risk, GMOs have gone into production with virtually no research done into their effects on the human body. Worse yet, they are now starting to kill animals.
The evidence against genetically modified foods (GMOs) is steadily accumulating. New strains of cotton and corn are capable of producing a variation of a commonly used natural pesticide called Bt. As a pesticide spray, Bt has been shown to cause flulike symptoms in humans. The Bt concentration present inside GMO crops is much higher than in the spray pesticide, and because the plant produces it, the chemical cannot simply be washed off. Bt corn and cotton have recently been linked to the deaths of large numbers of grazing animals in India, Germany and the Philippines.
One of the scariest risks of GMO’s sounds like it was ripped from the pages of a Sci-Fi novel. In the only published study where a human was fed GMO’s to discern any possible health risks, it was discovered that the genetic modifications actually transferred from the foods to the bacteria living inside the intestines. The genes that were added to the foods to make them more insect-resistant were found to be actively operating in bacteria inside of the gut. This has some frightening implications, namely that eating GMO’s could potentially turn your intestines into a living pesticide factory. It has also been documented in animal tests that consuming GMO food caused complete sterility by the 3rd generation.
Avoiding harmful substances
Fortunately, there is a much better alternative to the current way of doing things. Aquaponics is an emerging home farming practice that pairs the cultivation of fish and vegetables into a single, self-sustaining system. An aquaponic system can produce a steady supply of organic, pesticide-free fish and vegetables. The systems are expandable to enable a family to produce all of their own food.
Aquaponics is a compact closed loop eco-system, where the waste from your fish serves as fertilizer for your vegetables. In turn, the vegetables filter the water, cleaning it for the fish to reuse. The system functions completely without manmade pesticides or fertilizers, and is 90% more water efficient than standard gardening practices.
The energy input required to run an aquaponics farm is minimal—just enough to run the pump that delivers water from the fish tank to the growing beds—and can be easily supplied by a small solar unit. Daily maintenance amounts to feeding the fish and checking to make sure the pumps are running.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to running a home aquaponics farm is the food. Vegetables grown in aquaponics systems mature more quickly than in-ground gardening and are much more flavorful than store-bought produce. This is because vegetables can be picked when fully ripe on the vine- this is different from store bought produce that must be picked while still green so that it endures the trip to the super market. Allowing food to mature and ripen all the way yields a much higher nutritional value and flavor. Of course, vegetables grown through aquaponics have no need for the pesticides or genetic modifications found in common grocery store items, and can be consumed without risking unintended poisoning or genetic modification of the intestinal bacteria. In fact, if pesticides are used in an aquaponic system it would kill the fish!
Fish raised through aquaponics are much healthier alternatives to store-bought fish. Growing your own fish insures there is no mercury or other contaminants. The current commercial fishing industry seems to battle with a multitude of poisons leeching into the fish including mercury (which is the 2nd most toxic material known to humans). Healthy, home-farmed fish taste better and are devoid of the growth hormones and steroids that many commercial fish farms feed their stock.
In fact, mercury is a concern not only in fish, but also in condiments like ketchup and even ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. If you grow tomatoes, you can make your own ketchup, allowing you to avoid this hazard as well.
Eating healthier overall
Even if you don’t take into account the harmful effects of GMO’s and pesticides in your food, you still must consider the fact that eating a diet based on plentiful fruits, vegetables and fish is a recipe for a much healthier lifestyle. It’s no secret that Americans eat too many processed foods and not enough fruits and vegetables, as evidenced by a recent report from HealthDay stating that 90 percent of people in the U.S. do not get enough.
Specifically, green vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli are loaded with important nutrients like vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate and potassium. Vitamin K alone does wonders for the body, including preventing osteoporosis, reducing the risk of blood clots and helping you avoid diabetes and other conditions.
If you grow tomatoes, you’ll be giving yourself access to key vitamins A, C and K, in addition to B6, niacin and fiber, which helps with digestion. And carrots contain high levels of vitamin A and beta carotene, which benefit everything from your vision to your skin.
For its part, fish is a key part of a healthy person’s diet, as it provides adequate levels of protein and omega-3s that allow you to avoid red meat. This makes for better heart health, as well as helps to avoid issues like depression and arthritis.
While modern medicine has come a long way toward helping with many of the ailments that impact us, the fact remains that the best defense against most illnesses and medical conditions remains a healthy diet. By basing your diet on fish, fruits and vegetables, you’ll begin to see the positive health effects within just a few weeks.
An economical choice
Finally, if health reasons aren’t enough to have you shopping for an aquaponics system in the near future, there’s the issue of price. Setting up an aquaponics system can be a little expensive at first, but can provide year-round, sustainable fish and produce within months of purchase. Many home aquaponics farmers are able to cut out their grocery store bill entirely through the use of these systems. Total food independence can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Additionally, you’ll be helping out your local environment. Once your system is up and running, it takes no gasoline, oil or other fossil fuels to produce the food you consume. It simply goes from your aquaponics unit right to your plate, making for a truly sustainable and eco-friendly way to eat.
With industrial farming and agriculture descending into the realm of the downright grotesque, self-sustaining, independent food production is going to become an increasingly attractive option for American consumers. When it forces us to choose between food that can make you sick and food that is simply food, the process by which our food is grown becomes one of the most important considerations we may face.