Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are Organic Foods Healthier?

When you hear the word organic what comes to your mind?  The term organic can spark a variety of reactions in people.  For some people, when they hear the term organic they may think of people wearing hemp and eating granola.  Today, the term may make you think of more expensive products while others look at the term organic meaning more nutritious.  The term organic can simply mean a healthy lifestyle.  According to the USDA’s Organic Labeling and Marketing Information, for an item to be labeled organic, it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. The web site, WebMd goes further in its explanation indicating “to meet these standards, organic crops must be produced without conventional pesticides (including herbicides), synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.  Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics.  Organic farm animals must have access to the outdoors, including pastureland for grazing”. 

Today, many products are marketed with the organic label, including the food we eat, health and beauty products, pet food, and even the clothes we wear.  We see organic products in almost every supermarket.  They are marketed as being healthier for us.  Is eating organic foods going to be healthier for me than ingesting non-organic foods?  To find this out we need to actually research the subject.    

There are some web sites that will say organic is not necessarily healthier; however, adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet is a way we can eat healthier.  I don’t dispute adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet would be healthier for us. For many Americans, the diet of choice has become quick and convenient.  This generally means foods higher in sugar, fats, and preservatives.  If we do choose to add more fresh fruits and vegetable to our diets, why not take it a step further and eliminate foods that contain chemicals as well.  There have been various studies indicating the added health benefits of organic foods.

A study conducted by Rutgers University, Misquotes in "Variation in Mineral Composition of Vegetables”, was interpreted by some to indicate organic foods were of higher mineral content; however, the study did not include samples of the same varieties grown under the same conditions.  Because of this, some of their findings were misinterpreted.  Rutgers has since published a notice to this affect on their site.  On the other hand, there have been numerous controlled studies conducted to show organic foods are healthier for you.  One such site, Organic Trade Associations, lists various published studies.  Some of the studies were conducted in the United States and others in various countries around the world.  According to the studies noted, organically grown foods have been shown to contain higher amounts of antioxidants.  They have also noted higher amounts of minerals in the fruits and vegetables. Another study on organic dairy products reflected an increased amount in omega 3 fatty acids.   The Organic Center (pg. 42) published an in-depth study which indicates “the average serving of organic plant-based food contains about 25% more of the nutrients encompassed in this study than a comparable-sized serving of the same food produced by conventional farming methods”.  What are conventional farming methods you may ask?  Conventional methods differ quite extensively than those farming methods first developed.

As indicated on the web site, Sound Organic Food Movement, the term organic is not a new term, but rather has roots dating back to the 1950’s.  When farming originated, the methods used were not as complex as those methods currently in use today.  The farmers weeded their crops by hand, used compost and manure as fertilizer, and also strategically planted crops, as well as other plants, to help deter pests.  One example of this would be to deter insects from a garden, marigolds would be planted surrounding it.  Marigolds are found to be a plant most insects do not like; therefore, they avoid that area.  There are an abundance of strategic planting suggestions out there.  Another issue with planting crops now is the fact most seeds are now genetically altered.  They do this to make a more insect and disease resistant strain of seed.  If seeds are genetically altered, they are engineered so that they will not come back the following year as the same plant.  This means a farmer can’t save his seeds and replant them the next year.  This has become a big issue not only with our food supply, but with the farmers planting the crops.  We do not know what long term effect the consumption of genetically altered foods or those laden with chemicals will have on us. 

There is a big movement across the country as the demand for organic, as well as locally grown and produced food, is increasing.  I recently watched the movie Food, Inc (Magnolia Pictures, 2008).  The movie documents how standard food is grown, handled, and processed; it gives us a glimpse into the food industry.  The documentary depicts how mass production of food has created many heath issues and illnesses. Currently, most farming methods include the use of genetically altered seeds, pesticides to deter insects, and chemical fertilizers. Some questions that come to mind when viewing this is: shouldn’t the producers have an obligation to give the consumer the best product possible?  Does making a profit always have to come before the well being of the consumer?  A hand full of large corporations now controls our entire food market.  This monopoly has come at the cost of many farmers, some of which have been forced out of business.  There are still many small and organic farmers trying to bring wholesome food to the tables of more Americans. They feel a more natural approach to producing food is better for us and the well being of the animals.

Organic foods are better for you because they are grown with considerably less harmful pesticides. Organic farming does not use chemicals that can contaminate the soil and in turn our water supply; therefore, not only is organic food better for consumption, it is better for the environment. Even the EPA warns of the dangers of children and pesticides on its web site.   They warn “pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth. Another way pesticides may cause harm is if a child's excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Also, there are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual's biological system operates”. 

There are many things to consider when choosing traditionally grown foods vs. organic.  Organic generally cost more since the products are not mass produced; however, we have to weigh the added benefits against the cost.  If we are getting more nutrients and a better looking product, is the added cost worth it?  In my experience, organic foods taste better and are more appealing.  Just knowing they are not laced with chemicals makes me choose organic when I can.  At times, there have been some products that weren’t as appealing as the non-organic; however, organic products are not genetically altered.  Genetically altered products are altered to appeal to our senses.  They are often larger, brighter and shinier.  Although organic may not be as bright and shiny, they are still the better choice.  Did you realize petroleum is put onto cucumbers and peppers to make them nice and shiny?  I would rather have one that is less attractive that I know is free of chemicals. 

      With all of the research indicating the added health benefits of choosing organic, there are still times when I have to weigh the additional cost of organic foods when shopping.  For instance, an organic gallon of milk has recently risen to $8 a gallon vs. $3 for non-organic.  Take in to consideration, my family goes through four gallons of milk a week, which is twenty gallons a month.  The difference between organic and non-organic milk adds up to $100 a month.  Since the increase in cost, I have switched back to non-organic.  I really miss the organic milk, but at this time don’t feel the additional expense in this area outweighs the desire to purchase organic.  I choose to concentrate on buying organic fruits and vegetables and various other products and skip the organic milk at this time.  When given the choice, if within reason, I choose organic.  I feel I have more energy when I include more organic foods in my diet.  I am always working at trying to incorporating more organic items into our lives whenever possible.  I feel the less exposure to pesticides my family has, the better it will be for us in the long term. 

Benbrook, Charles, Xin Zhao, Jaime Yanex, Neal Davies, and Preston Andrews. "New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods." Organic Center; State of Science Review: Nutritional Superiority of Organic Foods (2008): 1-49. Web. 21 Mar 2010. .
Food, Inc.  Kenner, Robert. Magnolia Pictures, 2008.  DVD.
Heckman, Joseph R. "Misquotes in "Variation in Mineral Composition of Vegetables"." Rutgers; New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 11Mar1991. Web. 21 Mar 2010. .
"Is Organic Food Better for You?” WebMD. WebMD, Inc., 2004. Web. 21 Mar 2010. .
"Nutritional Considerations." Organic Trade Association. Organic Trade Association, 2008. Web. 21 Mar 2010. .
"Organic Labeling and Marketing Information." United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service. United States Department of Agriculture, Apr2008. Web. 21 Mar 2010. <>.
"Pesticides: Health and Safety." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA.Gov, 04Mar2008. Web. 21 Mar 2010. .

1 comment:

  1. Very good blog entry, Melissa! I would further add, that something doesn't have to be certified organic to be worthy of consumption. The lady I buy chicken and beef from did not go to the paperwork and expense of having her product stamped "organic", but I trust her. I trust that what she feeds her animals is what she really feeds them. So, I buy it from her. To me, buying local and knowing where the food is coming from weighs heavier than whether the product says it is organic or not.

    One other comment I would make, ok, two comments, is: for one thing, don't forget the "dirty dozen". If you only have so much money to concentrate towards organic foods, prioritize the ones that are the most highly pesticide ridden, such as coffee, & strawberries, etc. You can find the list by doing a web search.

    LASTLY, I would say that when I was in a food buying club, I saw a lot of people buying a lot of stuff because it said it was "natural" or "organic". Junk food is junk food, no matter how you cut it. The natural food manufacturers kind of depend on us buying into all that package food junk just like the conventional food manufacturers do. At the end of the day, eating a bag of corn chips, whether organic or not, is probably not a good idea, for a variety of reasons.