There is much debate among consumers as to whether the added price associated with organic foods reflects added value. Organic products have become so popular over the past ten years that it is almost impossible to go to a grocery store and not see some organic products on the shelf. Do you ever wonder if it’s worth it?
What Is Organic?
First of all, to accurately judged any perceived value, it is important to understand what it means for a product, be it a cracker or an apple, to be organic. Organic farming is the practice of raising crops in a way that excludes the use of most synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Farmers instead rely exclusively on natural farming methods. For instance, instead of using pesticides to control insects, organic farmers use predatory bugs or birds to keep insect populations down. They can also use strategies that disrupt pests’ mating cycles and apply limited amounts of naturally based pesticides. Weed control is done by hand, with mulch or by tilling the soil, rather than with herbicides.
The way in which organically raised crops receive nutrients also differs greatly from conventional farming methods. In traditional agriculture, nitrogen based fertilizers are used heavily on crops to produce high yields. In organic farming, only natural fertilizers like manure can be used to enhance delivery of nutrients to crops. Organic farming also bans the common practice of using human sewage and sludge to fertilize crops. Additionally, organic farmers often use crop rotation. This is a process that involves rotating different crops among the various fields in a farm in order to prevent any one nutrient from becoming overly depleted in the soil.
In 2002, the USDA took over organic certification in the U.S. Foods that are labeled organic must now meet strict guidelines. In addition to meeting the requirements outlined above, organic crops must be grown on fields that have not had any synthetic herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers used on them for a minimum of five years. In addition, organic foods cannot be genetically modified.
In order for animal products (meat, eggs and dairy) to be certified as organic, the animals must be given food that was grown according to organic guidelines, and there can be no administration of growth hormones or routine administration of antibiotics.
Possible Benefits of Organic Foods
1. Reduced Exposure to Pesticides and Herbicides
Many people argue that the exposure we get to the pesticides and herbicides used on our food is too minimal to make a difference in our health. It is important to take into account, however, that although each individual exposure itself may not be toxic, the accumulated exposure over a lifetime may be. Pesticide exposure has been linked to a variety of health problems ranging from dizziness and nausea to cancer. High rates of certain types of blood cancers are commonly found among farm workers with high exposure levels to pesticides.
Most of the chemicals used in farming have only been in use for the past 60 to 80 years. Our bodies have not developed the elaborate detoxification mechanism necessary to effectively clear many of these substances. Over time, they accumulate in our cells. Over 150 different environmental toxins can be found in the cord blood of a newborn baby. These toxins are pervasive in all humans and exist everywhere in our environment.
By eating organic foods, we minimize our exposure to these toxins. Organic foods have been found to have a third less pesticide residues than conventionally grown crops. In addition, less of these chemicals end up in our ground water thereby improving the health of our waterways and the fish and shellfish we eat.
Children are at the biggest risk when it comes to pesticide exposure due to their developing systems and immature detoxification capabilities. They also eat more food per pound of body weight than adults. Some studies have shown that children fed an organic diet have one sixth the level of pesticide residues in their urine than children given a diet of conventionally grown food. Measurable differences in developmental scores are also seen between children given organic vs. conventional foods. This is no surprise considering that pesticides are designed to disrupt the neurological system of living organisms.
2. No GMOs
No long term human safety studies have ever been conducted on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We assume that they are safe, but lack any scientific evidence to prove that they do not pose a threat to our health. In fact, there is more research pointing towards potentially harmful effects of these foods.
Splicing genes from other organisms into a plant or animal can inadvertently expose someone to a potentially harmful substance. Take for example the soybean that had a gene from a Brazil nut spliced into it; people with allergies to Brazil nuts showed allergic responses to this variety of soybean.
Another research study done on genetically modified potatoes showed that they created significant gastrointestinal irritation and inflammation in rats when compared to non-GMO potatoes.
Because genetically modified foods are not required to be labeled in the U.S., it is impossible to know if you are being exposed to a potentially harmful substance. Eating organic foods ensures that your foods have not been genetically engineered. Other countries, including the European Union, require that all GMO foods be clearly labeled so consumers can make their own choices. The only way to make that choice in America is to eat organic.
Genetically modified foods also contribute to greater pollution because many are designed to withstand greater application of pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides use has fueled the spread of dengue fever in South America by becoming concentrated in ground water and killing the fish and amphibians that prey on mosquitoes.
3. Higher Nutrient Content
There have been long debates throughout the years regarding the nutrient content of organic foods. Because the soil is nourished with good farming and natural, rich fertilizers many people speculated that this would translate to higher nutrient content in the plants. Remember, the main nutrient used in conventional farming is nitrogen. This makes the plants grow quickly and swell to large sizes, but does not nourish the soil in which they grow.
Naysayers of organic farming have always claimed that research shows no greater nutrient content in organic foods than in conventional foods. Initial research on the matter seemed to confirm this. However, the most definitive and comprehensive research project regarding the differences in nutrient content of organic vs. non-organic foods was completed in 2007 and some very interesting data came to light.
Although some controversy still exists regarding the content of certain vitamins and minerals, organic foods were found to contain 40% greater levels of antioxidants than conventional foods. We know that antioxidants serve as a significant contributor to good health. Organic milk was found to have 60% higher levels of beneficial antioxidants than conventionally produced milk.
This suggests that those people eating organic foods are receiving a significant health benefit. Antioxidants are correlated with many aspects of improved health, including reduced risk of cancer and heart disease.
In addition, because organic foods are not treated with artificial chemicals they do not last as long on the shelf. Although this can be a disadvantage if you do not eat your produce quickly, the food does not sit around as long which helps ensure that some nutrient content is still left by the time you eat it. The chemicals used to preserve fruits and vegetables can prevent spoilage but they do not slow the natural degradation of nutrients.
The Bottom Line: Paying extra for organic IS worth it! The higher price reflects the true cost of growing foods in a manner that is respectful to the environment and safe for human health. The toxic chemicals that conventional farmers rely on to produce high yielding crops have been linked to various cancers and have been shown to have damaging effects on the nervous and endocrine systems.
Not only are organic foods safer, they are higher in nutrients, and best of all, most people find that they taste better! So it only makes sense to choose organic or pesticide-free foods whenever you can. The foods that are most important to buy organic (because they tend to be the most heavily contaminated) include all animal products, and fruits and vegetables without protective skins – like apples, pears, grapes, berries, bell peppers, celery, lettuces and spinach.
Dr. Passero completed four years of post-graduate medical education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon after receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado. Dr. Passero has trained with some of the nation’s leading doctors in the field of natural medicine. In his practice, Dr. Passero focuses on restoring harmony to both the body and mind using advanced protocols that incorporate herbal therapy, homeopathy, vitamin therapy and nutritional programs. Through education and guidance patients are able to unlock the natural healing power contained within each one of us. For more information, visit his website, Green Healing Wellness, or follow him on Facebook.
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