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Is Organic Food Really Better for You?

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Is Organic Food Really Better for You?
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Organic produce is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Irradiation and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or products produced from or by GMOs are prohibited by organic legislation.

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Have you noticed your supermarket’s organic section lately? It’s growing. Whether at the fruit counter or down the tea aisle, organic options are increasing in numbers, their colorful packaging and eco-credentials tempting consumers to give them a try. Maybe you’ve been enticed into buying one of these products, despite the higher price tag? More and more customers are choosing to buy organic, but why the spike in interest? Is organic food really better for you?

Nutrient Dense

One of the main reasons people buy organic is because they believe it to be healthier. And this is confirmed by a plethora of studies. Organic produce is grown differently to conventional fruit and vegetables. Farmers use processes that support the soil, enriching it with natural fertilizers and using crop rotation and companion planting to increase the soil’s flora and fauna. It follows that a seed sown in soil that is rich in nutrients will grow into a fruit that is bursting with vitamins. A study published in the Alternative Medicine Review in 2010 found that organic food contain higher levels of certain nutrients, specifically antioxidants. [1] Conventional agriculture, on the other hand, focuses on intensive crop management and relies heavily on artificial fertilizers to enrich the soil and produce high yields. The fruits that results from those practices are understandably lower in nutrients.

Antioxidants are vital for disease prevention. Not only do they fight off free-radicals that degenerate our cells, they also give the immune system a boost and have proven anti-cancer effects. And the more antioxidants fruits and vegetables contain, the more you’re getting into your body. In that sense, buying organic certainly has health benefits.

The Toxic Truth about Vegetables

Conventional farming relies heavily on synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides. Compounds like organophosphorus, one of the most effective and widely used man-made insecticides is a neurotoxin, even at tiny doses. [2] Another example is the fungicide carbendazim, which disrupts hormones and causes birth defects. [3] These are toxic in high doses—the warning labels on the bottles speak for themselves. But while none of us would willingly consume them, we unwittingly do, every day. The chemicals used to grow the seed and the poisons sprayed on the plants inevitably end up in and on the fruits and vegetables we eat.

This fact is confirmed by a number of studies that show many of these chemicals end up in our bloodstream. These days, even newborns have some toxins in their blood, because these chemicals pass through the placenta to the baby. A ground-breaking study carried out in 2004 by the Environmental Working Group took blood samples from ten babies born in US hospitals and found their blood contained over 200 chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins, as well as some banned substances, like DDT. [4] Another study carried out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) analyzed blood samples from 47 people over Europe and found every person was contaminated with a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including some that were banned in Europe over 20 years ago, and high levels of chemicals that are commonly used in conventional agriculture. [6] Clearly, eating fewer non-organic fruits and vegetables can only lower your exposure to these toxins.

What about Meat and Dairy?

When it comes to meat, poultry and dairy, the same applies. Conventional industrial animal farming uses non-organic animal feed, and relies on antibiotics to keep the animals alive. These antibiotics are the topic of much controversy. A study published by the American Society for Microbiology[6] shows that antibiotics in livestock feed gives rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs that can threaten human health. Animals from organic farms are given organic feed, without antibiotics. This means that organic meat, chicken, yogurt, cheese, and milk from organic farms are free of many of the chemicals used in intensive animal rearing, and are therefore a healthier choice.

A Balanced View

But organic doesn’t always mean without the use of pesticides. In fact, some natural pesticides are allowed, like rotenone, which is classified as “mildly toxic” by the World Health Organization. [7] But overall, fewer chemicals are used in organic farming, which means fewer end up on your plate and in your body.

When to Buy Organic

Some fruits and vegetables require more chemicals than others, and it is wise to choose organic versions of these. Others, however, are hardy plants that grow without the need for heavy-duty pesticides, so non-organic versions may be safe to buy. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) put together two lists: Clean 15, fruits and vegetables that you can buy non-organic; and Dirty Dozen, which tend to be sprayed a lot—you should buy these organic.

Dirty Dozen – Buy Organic
  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines and peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Sugar Snap Pees
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries v
  • Sweet peppers and hot peppers
  • Kale and collard greens
Clean Fifteen – OK to Buy Non-Organic
  • Avocados
  • Sweetcorn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Papayas
  • Kiwis
  • Aubergine (eggplant)
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe melon
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes

Not Always Healthier

Who hasn’t been tempted to reach for that packet of organic biscuits, or looked longingly at a mouth-watering display of organic breads? But while organic may mean fewer chemicals, not all organic foods are healthy foods. An organic apple juice or bar of chocolate, for example, contains just as much sugar as non-organic versions. Just because the label states it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for you.

Why the Higher Price?

One thing that won’t escape your notice as you browse through the supermarket aisle is the price difference between organic and conventional foods. Organic foods tend to be more expensive. You may be wondering what’s behind these higher costs? Here are the five top factors contributing to the price:

  1. Fewer chemicals, more labor: Conventional farming uses chemicals and pesticides, whereas organic farms hire workers to tackle things like hand-weeding and pest-control.
  2. Supply and demand: More and more people want to buy organic food, but there isn’t enough organic farmland to meet this growing demand.
  3. Costlier fertilizer: You may not like it, but conventional farms use sewage sludge and chemical fertilizers to grow your food. These are cheap and don’t cost much to transport. On the other hand, organic farms use compost and animal manure, which are more expensive.
  4. Better conditions for animals: Organic farms have higher standards for animal welfare, and organic livestock feed can cost up to twice as much as conventional feed.
  5. Organic certification: For a food to have an organic label, it has to be certified, and this is a costly enterprise. Farms may have to modify their facilities and hire more staff to comply with the strict regulations. They also need to pay a yearly certification fee.

While we can’t control all the chemicals we come into contact with, through the air we breathe and the water we drink, we have a say over the type of food we eat. By choosing organic produce, you can reduce the toxic load on your body, and increase the amount of nutrients on your plate. So why not take a stroll down the organic aisle in your supermarket today and see what you can find? 

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