Are you trying to decide if eating organic is really worth the extra expense? The truth is, not eating organic can actually be a whole lot more expensive when you consider the long-term and wide-range health care costs. Adopting an organic lifestyle helps to enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms. Growing foods organically excludes, when possible, the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and additives to livestock feed. Organic farmers usually rely on crop rotation and animal manures to maintain soil productivity, to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects, and other pests.
As a result, in addition to reducing your exposure to harmful pesticides, eating organically may also reduce your exposure to hormones, antibiotics, and potentially harmful irradiated food. Less antibiotic use may help to avoid the development of antibiotic resistance.
According to the Environmental Working Group, (a non-profit organization that focuses on protecting public health and the environment regarding public policy), scientists have begun to agree that even small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can have long-term health consequences that begin during fetal development and early childhood.
The Organic Seal of Approval guarantees the consumer that there has been no usage of genetically modified crops or sewage sludge as fertilizer, helping to reduce toxic runoff into rivers and lakes and the subsequent contamination of watersheds and drinking water. When you eat organically grown food, you may also be supporting small, local farmers, who are able to use less energy in transporting food from the field to the table.
Organic beef, chicken, and poultry are raised on 100% organic feed and never given antibiotics or hormones. In addition, their meat is never irradiated. Organic milk and eggs come from animals not given antibiotics or hormones and fed 100% organic feed for the previous 12 months. (Free-range eggs come from hens that are allowed to roam, but they are not guaranteed to be organic.) (Click the seal below for one resource for grassfed beef, poultry, lamb, bison, dairy, even seafood and healthy bone broth)
Several studies support the claim that organic diets can dramatically reduce pesticide exposure. One such study compared pesticide metabolite levels in 18 children who got at least 75% of their juice and produce servings from organic sources with those in 21 children who got at least 75% of their juice and produce from conventionally grown food. Levels of organophosphorus pesticide metabolites in the urine collected were six to nine times higher in the children who ate conventionally grown foods than in those who ate organic diets. Other studies have corroborated these claims.
Claims of enhanced nutritional benefits of organic foods have caused much controversy. However, studies have been able to support this claim. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported one study showing that, on average, organic crops contain 86% more chromium, 29% more magnesium, 27% more vitamin C, 21% more iron, 26% more calcium, 42% more manganese, 498% more iodine, and 372% more selenium. Significantly less nitrates were also found in the organic food. Resulting from nitrogen-based fertilizers, high nitrates in food and drinking water can be converted to potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines.
The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that organically grown corn, strawberries, and marionberries have significantly higher levels of anticancer antioxidants than nonorganically grown foods. Protective compounds, such as flavonoids, are produced by plants to act as their natural defense in response to stresses, such as insects or other competitive plants. The report suggested that good soil nutrition seems to increase the amount of these protective compounds, while pesticides and herbicides disturb their production. A more recent study found similar results.
Another important issue was brought to light in a 2010 review of studies that found an increased incidence of thyroid disease and diabetes with exposure to organochlorines. The Environmental Working Group continues to stay on top of these issues as they come to the forefront.
What foods are most important to eat organically?
Organic meats and dairy appear to be the most heavily contaminated with hormones, pesticides and herbicides. According to a 2009 study that was a joint effort between the USDA and researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina, grass-fed beef is better for human health than grain-fed beef in these top ten ways:
- Lower in total fat
- Higher in beta-carotene
- Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
- Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
- Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
- Higher in total omega-3s
- Better ratio of omega-6 to 3 fatty acids
- Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
- Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
- Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease
Produce can be quite variable:
If you are unable to eat organic produce, it is wise to be aware of those products that are the least contaminated with pesticides. The Environmental Working Group publishes the lists Dirty Dozen™ and Clean 15 ™ that changes annually. Foods are listed in order of importance.
In order to determine if produce has been genetically modified, check the number PLU (product look-up) code on the sticker on most produce. If the number code is simply four digits, the produce is conventionally grown, which means it is not genetically modified and not organic. If the PLU code is a five digit code beginning with an “8”, the product has been genetically modified. If the PLU code is a five digit code beginning with a “9”, the product is organic, and also, by definition of organic, not genetically modified.
And when it comes to seafood:
This topic is really for a separate blog post, but do avoid farm-raised products and purchase “wild” as much as possible. Here’s a great seafood resource (click image):
So, are you still wanting to cut corners on your food budget by avoiding organic food?
If you are trying to cut corners on your food budget, instead of cutting out on organically grown food, consider instead cutting out on processed foods. The truth is, there is significant expense and waste associated with most processed foods. Think about the packaging costs associated with processed foods, not to mention the health risks due to the addition of artificial flavor enhancers, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, chemical colors and preservatives, excessive sodium, white flour and sugar that wreak havoc on our health. This is what is expensive to our personal health, resulting in chronic diseases that burden our healthcare system. When you cut out processed foods and concentrate on purchasing wholesome organic food, and thus reap the benefits of improved health, it will become obvious to you that buying organic is money well spent.
For further cost-savings when purchasing organic foods, shop locally to look for bargains and shop when items are in season since the cost will be lower when there is a greater supply. Consider joining a food co-op, and purchase generic organic products vs name-brands, to also save on organic food costs. For local farmers markets in your area, go to: https://localharvest.org
Reference: The Institute of Functional Medicine