There's a lot of organic chatter lately, mostly because of a study published by Stanford researchers last month that claimed organic food is no more nutritious than conventional food. It gathered data from over 200 studies conducted over the past 46 years that compare the nutrients found in organically grown produce to those from conventionally grown produce. There were no significant differences. But this study was highly flawed and biased. Mark Bittman breaks it down for us nicely in an article he wrote recently. The fact of the matter is this: organically grown food has health benefits other than its nutrient content.
As I embark on the 4th Renewal Detox, I urge my participants to choose organic apples while they're in season, since they're one of the only fruits available this time of year. However, the question that comes up again and again involves cost.
Why is organic food more expensive? And is it really worth the extra money?
First, organic food is more expensive because, frankly, it's not as widely available, making up less than 4% of all foods bought in America. Conventional foods are grown on a much MUCH larger scale. I recently found a street produce market on Saturday while walking around Boston with Phil and his parents where the fruits and veggies for sale were unbelievably cheap. Giant bags of onions for less than $4, huge packages of spinach and kale, boxes of oranges for next to nothing. It was easy to see why the street was packed with excitable shoppers! We purchased 4 bell peppers for $1, since Phil's Dad was making curry that evening, as well as a few other items. Compare that price to organic bell peppers at Whole Foods, which cost almost $1 each! It's understandable why you wouldn't want to make that leap, to pay almost 4 times as much for an organically grown vegetable.
My belief, however, is YES, it is worth the extra money, provided it's a heavily sprayed fruit or vegetable, such as an apple or a bunch of spinach. Conventionally grown foods come with hidden costs, which will show up over time in the form of chronic health issues and doctor's bills.
Allow me to outline some reasons why you should choose organic (at least when it comes to the "Dirty Dozen" - see below).
Health Benefits of Organic Foods
- Avoiding synthetic pesticides, which are potential carcinogens. They are widely used to control pests not just on farms in the States, but throughout the World. In addition to contaminating our food, pesticide residues end up in our tap water too.
- Avoiding heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, which can enter the foods through polluted soil and food processing machinery. There are many health risks associated with ingesting these toxins, including certain cancers and behavioral disorders.
- Avoiding solvents, mainly used in food processing and food additives, which have been associated with several types of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Avoiding hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs, found in non-organic meat, dairy and fish, which contribute to many health issues involving the endocrine and immune systems.
- Avoiding GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), especially corn and soy, which are linked to an increasing number of food sensitivities and allergies, not to mention the detrimental impacts they have on the environment. The USA is currently the world's top grower of soybeans, producing 90.6 million metric tons per year, and corn, producing 40% of the world's supply. And here's a fun fact: GMO soy is fertilized with human sewage sludge. (By the way, are you a California resident? Make sure you vote Yes on Prop 37 on election day!)
Environmental Benefits of Organic Farming
- Conventional farming - the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and the like - is unsustainable.
- There are health risks associated with the contaminated soil, water, and air that comes from the conventional farming overuse of synthetic chemicals.
- Organic farming is self-contained, growing crops and rearing animals on a rotational and seasonal basis, working with nature to achieve balance within the farm.
- Climate stabilization could be possible with organic farming practices, since they don't produce nearly as many carbon emissions as conventional farming methods.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a fantastic list to help us make the right choices when shopping for produce called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. These lists include 12 fruits and vegetables that are highest in pesticide residues, and 15 fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticide residues. I've decided to make my own version for you to save. Just click on this image and you'll get a full-size copy that you can save and print to take with you on your next grocery store visit!
Don't get spend that extra $1 on an organic avocado next time. But do budget a little extra cash for organic leafy greens - it will be worth it for the sake of your health.
P.P.S. My new nutrition consultant practice is set up and ready to receive clients! Check out www.mollyrobsonwellness.com for more information.
[sources: Whfoods.com, Rodale.com]