Organic Versus Non-organic Foods

Because organic foods are not exposed to harmful pesticides, people are always talking about their benefits, but are they correct?

According to a 2004 UK study, which was published in the Coronary and Diabetic Care in the UK 2004, there are many more benefits for people eating organic diets than just eating pesticide-free food. The article maintains people who enjoy an organic diet reap numerous health benefits because they

  • Eliminate genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Increase levels of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids (EFAs)
  • Reduce levels of food additives and food colorings
  • Reduce levels of toxic chemicals

To show the difference in nutrients levels, the UK study compared nutrient levels between organic and non-organic crops, and the results demonstrated a significant difference. For instance, in organic crops, their magnesium levels were 29 percent higher, vitamin C was 27 percent higher, iron was 21 percent higher, and phosphorous was higher by at least 14 percent. Certain organic vegetables—cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, and spinach—also showed extremely high mineral levels when compared to their non-organic counterparts.

Beside better nutrition levels, there is also increasing evidence a person’s health can benefit from eating organic foods. An EPA study conducted around 2004-2006 examined children’s urine and found that, prior to switching to an organic diet, the children’s urine showed the presence of 14 pesticides. After an organic diet was introduced, the author of the study, Chensheng Lu, found that pesticide levels were undetectable, and he claimed the study was “a convincing demonstration of the ability of organic diets to reduce children’s OP [organophosphate] pesticide exposure and the health risks that may be associated with these exposures.”

Other studies have shown ingesting pesticides can be harmful. For instance, Belgian researchers discovered women diagnosed with breast cancer were six times more likely to show signs of hexachlorobenzene or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) in their bloodstreams than women who did not have breast cancer. Other studies have also shown ingestion of pesticides is linked to everything from headaches to depression to convulsions, and when organic diets are consumed there are lower incidences of allergies, cancer, and coronary heart disease.

So, how can you tell if a food is organically grown or not? By the label. According to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), any producer who sells over $5,000 in agricultural organic products a year must be certified. Certified producers can, if they choose, then label their products organic. The label they use is shown on the right. Also, organic products that are 95 to 100 percent organic—such as fruits, vegetables, or eggs—can bear this seal.

You may be wondering, why, if organic foods are so much better, doesn’t everyone eat them? It comes down to cash. Producing organic food is expensive. This is backed up by a CNNMoney.com article in April 2008 that noted, “[organic foods can be] as much as 50% to 100% more than non-organic alternatives.” Organic foods are labor intensive, require traditional farming methods, and take longer to grow. Furthermore, conventional farmers are subsidized by the government whereas organic farmers are not.

What can you do if you’re budget doesn’t allow for an all organic diet? The best suggestion I’ve heard is to look at which non-organic foods have the highest contamination rates and buy those foods from the organic shelves. The highly contaminated no-no foods include thin-skinned items, such as potatoes and tomatoes. In addition, apples and pears are two of the most heavily sprayed products in the U.S., so it’s best to purchase organic replacements. It is the same for peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, celery, lettuce, and sweet bell peppers. If you want to be even safer, you can also add organic meat, fish, and dairy products to your list.

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