Does food quality matter?
Do you need to buy grass fed beef?
Is organic worth the money?
Often when people start to "clean up" their diet one of things they look at as well as they types of food they are eating is the quality or the sources of the food they are eating, but does it matter? Is it simply a matter of getting the macronutrient ratios (protein : fat : carbs) balanced eating mainly meat, vegetables, fruit, some nuts, little starch and no sugar or is it worth going the extra step and getting the best quality foods that you can.
The short answer is "yes", quality counts, not in every single instance but as a general rule - it is worth seeking out higher quality food and not just for the obvious reasons. Starting with one of the more obvious ones - organic, is it worth the extra $$. Sometimes the extra cost of organic makes it very hard to justify (example $10 p. kg for regular mushrooms vs $38 p. kg for certified organic mushrooms), you'd want it to be really really worth it for the money.
Some foods its worth it and some its not so much, there is a good resource getting around that lists "The Clean 15" and "The Dirty Dozen", the clean 15 are foods that generally test fairly low for pesticides and the dirty dozen are ones that test unusually high (and would be better organic) - the Environmental Working Group has the list and corresponding report that goes with it. One thing that the reports mentions which is of high importance - The benefits eating a diet high in vegetables and fruits far outweighs the negatives of potential exposure to pesticides, ie if given a choice of eating vegetables or not, eat the vegetables (if you've got the option of going organic, then go organic)
The other big one is grass fed vs grain fed, Marks Daily Apple has a great article outlining the nutritional difference between the two, cows that have been eating grass produce a meat that is nutritionally different from cows that have been fed on grain. Grass fed beef is simply better for you, what I also personally like about it is that cows are grass fed have generally been walking around a paddock and enjoying life a lot more than cows that are force fed grains - pasture fed is also a more sustainable way of producing beef. in terms of cost, grass fed can be significantly cheaper, especially if you buy in bulk through someone like Paris Creek Beef - this way you get a variety of different cuts of beef (which will make you more creative in the kitchen) and all at one price (normally around $7 p. kilo)
Looking at foods that are sometimes shunned in CrossFit / Paleo circles - bread, grains, sugars etc - going to a higher quality version can be a stepping stone to potentally removing these from your diet in the future. While it might not be ideal to be eating sandwiches for lunch every day, if you start by changing the white bread for a multigrain and then to a high quality rye at least what you are consuming is more "nutrient dense", its still bread but it has more fibre etc in it. Same goes for replacing sugar for honey - especially a locally sourced honey, it's essentially still sugar but it is of a higher quality and in both these cases it can be a catalyst for further refinement of your diet. The key point about making decisions like this is that it goes towards creating awareness about what you are putting in your mouth, once you start thinking more about what your putting in your mouth you are less likely to put something bad in there.
The final point to consider with selecting better quality foods is the placebo effect - there are definite psychological benefits from taking the time and effort to make better choices - your going to feel better knowing your doing something positive for your health, this will also have a carry on effect to you making better choices in other areas like training, recovery etc
So dont feel you need to throw out everything in your fridge and start again, you can start by making small gradual changes and start to see some pretty big benefits. With a bit of advanced meal planning and preparation going for higher quality foods doesnt have to be more expensive (it can in fact be cheaper) and it often results in getting your food from more sustainable sources.