Are organic foods really healthier for you?
Do they have more nutrients then conventional?
What about if I am on a food budget?
These are some of the questions that are often asked when people see the organic sign on the shelf and in the produce area. There is a lot of buzz out there about organic and some may wonder, is it truly worth the $5 extra dollars for the same (almost) piece of meat or bag of apples??!
Let’s take a look:
To start out, in the United States, organic is a labeling term defined by the USDA. To be considered organic: the product must meet federal standards for production, processing, and certification under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. This product must “have been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
What does all that mean?
Well, that the national organic standards forbid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering to grow fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry cannot be irradiated, they must have access to the outdoors and can’t be given growth hormones, antibiotics or any other drugs. They must be fed 100% organic, with no animal by-product.
Does organic produce have more nutrients than non-organic?
When it comes to plant nutrients, it’s a bit complicated. The plants nutrient profile depends on the plant species or variety, the weather during that growing season, soil makeup etc. For the most part, there has been a small amount of scientific evidence to show that organic food is better quality on a nutritional standpoint than non-organic food. Some studies that have compared the same varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in similar locations found that the organic varieties contained higher levels of some nutrients about 60% of the time. Some studies conducted also found that organic produce had a 12% higher content of secondary metabolites and a 6% higher vitamin C (a great antioxidant) content than the corresponding conventional samples.
There has also been some research conducted on organic milk that has shown it to have more antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and vitamins than the non-organic milk. It is speculated that since organic cows are pasture grazed, it results in a better-quality product.
The University of California, Davis, conducted a study on organic tomatoes that were produced in an environment that had lower nutrient supply since nitrogen-rich chemical fertilizers were not added. The organic tomatoes were found to have higher vitamin C, carotenoids, and polyphenols (except for chologenic acid) than conventional tomatoes. When testing the purees, there was no different between the carotenoid content, whereas the concentrations of vitamin C and polyphenols remained higher than in the conventional puree.
Fun Fact: Secondary metabolites are phytochemicals that help to increase a plant’s ability to survive in its environment. Since organic plants are forced to defend themselves against disease and pests WITHOUT the aid of manmade chemicals, they must develop their own natural defenses. These defense-related secondary metabolites in fruits and vegetables are thought to be a possible reason that higher intake is linked to reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
There is so much more!
It’s important to note that buying and eating organic is so much more than just the extra nutrients some foods may provide. It’s ALSO about how the animal is raised and how the plants and crops are grown!
Organic produce generally has lower levels of pesticide residue AND, organic production is more sustainable by using less energy, producing less greenhouse gases, and creating healthier soils. Air- or water-borne pesticides can deplete the ozone, harm or kill non-targeted species and beneficial soil organisms, contaminate drinking water, and have adverse side effects to marine life.
Another concern is in the hormone and antibiotic use in non-organic foods. There is an increase of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections being found in humans, primarily because of unnecessary antibiotic use in both humans and animals. Sometimes we don’t have much of a choice whether we must be put on antibiotics to treat an illness or infection, however, we do have a choice on what we put into our mouths. On conventional farms, low levels of antibiotics are routinely used on healthy animals to speed up their growth while discouraging the development or spread of bacterial diseases (in 2011, around 80%, 29.9 million pounds, of all antibiotic sales in the US was used on livestock versus human use, 7.7 million pounds).
What if I have a food budget?
If on a budget while seeking out organic choices, don’t you worry, we got your back. Start with the foods that you and your family tend to eat most often and in the greatest quantities, just think of the favorite, “go-to meals” and start there. Also, choosing organic produce that is in season is a great way to stretch that organic food dollar as far as it can go. In season produce doesn’t only taste better, but is more locally grown and less expensive.
Let us work together to buy organic produce and meats to help avoid toxins, promote environmentally friendly organic farms, support our local farmers, avoid genetically modified products and just do the right thing.