Organically produced foods have come a long way since the hippie co-op days of the 70s when they first made a mainstream emergence. Today grocers are stocking shelves with more organic foods than ever before making eating organic more accessible to a wider range of consumers.
Before determining the merits of eating organic, let’s start by defining what conventional produce means and then define what organic means.
Rationale for Conventional Production Methods
You needn’t have watched this summer’s movie, “Food Nation”, to know that our livestock, fruits and vegetables are produced using a wide variety of chemicals. The reason is simple – to increase yield and profits.
Growth hormones given to cattle and sheep promote weight gain, similar to steroids. Antibiotics given to food producing animals housed in overcrowded conditions keeps disease at bay. The use of these drugs also yields a higher production rate of food products, such as milk from cows or eggs from chickens, increasing the manufacturer’s return on investment. While many producers in the U.S. continue to use high levels of antibiotics and hormones, the European Union and Canada have banned their use in food.
Consumers today have grown accustomed to buying ‘perfect’ and ‘blemish-free’ produce. This has lead to the rise in pesticide use. Pesticides are used on crops to kill weeds, fungus, insects and even rodents in an effort to keep the produce looking its best. The better the produce looks, more will be bought and the farms will make a higher profit. But at what cost to our health? According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, government tests show that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can retain up to 13 pesticides even after washing and cooking.
The following produce has been found to contain the highest amount of harmful pesticides when non-organically grown: apples, celery, cherries, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and sweet bell peppers.
The “Clean 15”
The next step up the health ladder is produce that is grown not using chemicals. The following list of fifteen fruits and vegetables are produced using the lowest amount of harmful pesticides when non-organically grown: asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kiwi, mango, onions, papaya, pineapple, sweet corn, sweet peas, sweet potato, tomato and watermelon.
Fruit & Vegetable Washes
Whether you eat organically or conventionally grown produce, it is important that you wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Thoroughly washing conventionally grown produce is even more important because of the difficulty in removing pesticide residue.
Using a product such as Veggie Wash may be a good first step towards eating healthier. This all natural fruit and vegetable wash removes harmful chemicals, wax and soil from your foods.
Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Wash makes fruits and vegetables cleaner by removing harmful pesticides, dirt, wax and other surface contaminants that water can’t penetrate. The wash rinses easily and leaves no residue or aftertaste.
The National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
According to NOP, organic produce is grown on farms focusing on renewable resources and conservation to better the environment. Foods labeled organic must be produced without fertilizers containing synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; without most conventional pesticides and herbicides; and can not be bioengineered or undergone ionizing radiation. Foods that meet the NOP’s organic program requirements bear the USDA Organic Seal.
To ensure the health of organic food producing animals, regulations on their food, living quarters and time outdoors are set. Organic foods which come from animals such as meat, dairy and eggs must be free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
To qualify for the USDA grass-fed label, cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed or consumed as hay or other stored forage. Also, the cattle must have access to pasture “during the growing season”. All cattle eat grass for the first 6 to 12 months, but then most are shipped to feedlots and fattened on grain for the rest of their lives. So, this distinction is important.
Dietician Lynn Goldstein, RD, CDN, with Weill Cornell Medical College in an advocate of an all organic diet. “Animals that are raised organically are treated better, get more sunlight, and are probably less stressed than commercial animals, which in the end will give you a healthier product,” Goldstein said.
Benefits of Eating Organic & Grass-Fed Meat
Given that these extra measures are taken to omit synthetic and harmful ingredients from organically grown foods, it would seem that they are healthier, right? Not necessarily. Although some reviews have found organic produce to contain higher levels of certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, chromium, selenium and calcium, these results have not been consistent across all studies. Organic Food Does not Offer a Health Benefit reviews the latest study regarding this issue.
The primary reason for eating organic produce is not necessarily to obtain higher levels of nutrients; it is to exclude harmful pesticides from the diet. The long-term effects of these toxins found in residues on conventional foods are linked to concerns with a weakened immune system and diseases such as cancer.
Eating grass-fed meat and dairy products eliminates unnecessary hormones and antibiotics from our bodies. A commonly held belief is that the wide-spread use of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to increased antibiotic resistance in humans. To learn more about how grass fed beef is a much healthier than conventionally grown beef, visit the website, Organic Grass Fed Beef.
Where to Buy Organic
You don’t need to live near a food co-op or health food store to find organic produce. Many conventional stores and even Walmart offer organic brands like Horizon, Kashi and Cascadian Farms. A number of farms like Sun Organic offer their products online and ship their organically grown food direct to consumers.
Finding grass fed meat in your local supermarket can be more difficult. However, sites like Eat Wild provide information and links to ranches and farms in your area.
Cost – the Downside of Eating Organic
The health benefits to eating organic are clear; however the cost of organic foods typically runs higher than non-organic and conventionally grown foods.
“I usually suggest that people shop at their local farmers’ markets for produce, and at stores like Whole Foods, where you can pick and choose which organic foods you want,” Goldstein says. “I would be sure to eat organic eggs, dairy, meat and poultry. In addition, I would consume as much organic produce as possible.”
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.