We all want to provide the best and most nutritious food for our families along with minimizing or totally eliminating the toxins to which we are exposed. Grocery shopping can be difficult and expensive, especially if we are constantly worrying about whether we should purchase organic vs. non-organic foods.
On the other hand, I’m sure that many of you are like me and are a little skeptical of the crunchy, Yoga Mom, gluten-free, organic craze that we find ourselves in the middle of.
Let's get to the bottom of the “organic” trend. Does it really make a difference?
Organic & Non-Organic Food
In my quest for the truth on the organic food issue, I soon found a raging debate between organic and non-organic foods that usually centers around these 3 concerns:
In the words of the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: (1)
“Organic foods are defined as those foods that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, genetic engineering, pesticides, or drugs. Pesticides are chemical or control agents made to kill insects, weeds, and fungal pests that damage crops.”
Non-organic foods, therefore, are either directly manufactured with or are indirectly contaminated by synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, genetic engineering, pesticides or drugs.
Many people argue that organic food looks and feels differently than non-organic food. They feel conventional food items almost look too “perfect;” whereas organic produce resembles the fresh fruit and veggies in your back yard garden with non-symmetrical shapes, varying colors and even some blemishes. Food Sentry offers one explanation why this is so:
“The short version is that much non-organic, unprocessed or minimally processed produce is treated with a variety of growth-enhancing substances and is also commonly subjected to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grading and quality standards (voluntarily), while organic produce is not.” (2)
We cannot prove whether or not this is true, but it does give some credence to the Ugly Food Movement, doesn’t it? (3)
The Mayo Clinic claims that organic foods are not more nutritious than non-organic varieties. A recent study examined the past 50 years' worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods and the conclusion was that there was not a significant difference in the nutrient content. (4) Yet, this perspective isn’t supported by everyone.
The British Journal of Nutrition published a paper that evaluated 343 studies on the topic, and decidedly concluded that organic foods are truly the healthier option because they contain up to 69% more antioxidants than non-organic foods. (5)
Because of the importance that antioxidants have in the prevention and successful treatment of chronic illnesses – such as heart disease, neurodegenerative disease and cancer – this information should not be taken lightly. The study also showed that organic foods have considerably less cadmium (a toxic metal) and, of course, pesticide residue.
The important message is this: When you consider the amount of research that has been done pinpointing the specific dangers associated with eating conventional, pesticide-ridden foods, why would anyone purposely choose non-organic food if they were able to choose organic?
Dangers of Non-Organic Foods
When we keep in mind that we are what we eat, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that the risks associated with pesticides are dramatic and widespread. According to a recent article in the journal IJRET: International Journal of Research in Engineering and Technology:
“The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of pesticide poison in each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries. The potential health effects of pesticides include asthma, allergies, and hypersensitivity, and pesticide exposure is also linked with cancer, hormone disruption, and problems with reproduction and fetal development. Children are at greater risk from exposure to pesticides because of their small size: relative to their size, children eat, drink, and breathe more than adults. Their bodies and organs are growing rapidly, which also makes them more susceptible; in fact, children may be exposed to pesticides even while in the womb.” (6)
Because of modern landscaping and farming practices, pesticides are so invasive that virtually no one is safe from them. How many of the above health conditions can be directly caused by eating non-organic food? No one knows.
A 2000 report from the Greater Boston Physician for Social Responsibility emphasizes that using organophosphates, especially around the home and at school, can put children in a dangerous situation. (7)
- Animal tests of pesticides belonging to the commonly-used organophosphate class of chemicals show that small single doses on a critical day of development can cause hyperactivity and permanent changes in neurotransmitter receptor levels in the brain.
- Chlorpyrifos (Dursban), one of the most commonly used organophosphates, decreases DNA synthesis in the developing brain, resulting in deficits in cell numbers.
- Another commonly used class of pesticides, known as pyrethroids, can also cause permanent hyperactivity in animals exposed to small doses on a single critical day of development.
- Impaired stamina, coordination, memory, and the capacity to represent familiar subjects in drawings were evident in children who had been exposed to a variety of pesticides in an agricultural community in Mexico.
Just imagine the consequences if we added non-organic foods to the mix! These are just the side effects of kids being exposed to pesticides on their playgrounds.
The Dirty Dozen ™
Since it is impossible to avoid pesticide exposure entirely, it is very important to limit the exposure in our food supply. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has developed a list called the Dirty Dozen™ that helps consumers have full disclosure on the levels of pesticides in their foods, and which foods contain the most pesticides. (8)
7. Sweet bell peppers
8. Imported nectarines
10. Cherry tomatoes
11. Imported snap peas
This doesn’t mean that other non-organic produce items are not a problem. The point of this list is to highlight the significant dangers that these 12 foods contain.
The most notable findings according to EWG’s research were: (8)
- 100% of imported nectarines and 99 % of apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
- Potatoes have more pesticides by weight than any other food.
- Grapes contain up to 15 pesticides.
- Celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.
Dirty Dozen PLUS™
During the third year of the EWG’s listing research, they expanded their Dirty Dozen list by adding a plus category to document these additional food items: (8)
“The two foods that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.”
At the rate that food manufacturers are going, you can only guess how long this list will stay to just 14.
Clean Fifteen ™
On the other end of the spectrum is what the EWG calls “The Clean Fifteen,” fresh fruits and vegetables that are the least likely to contain significant pesticide residues. (8)
2. Sweet corn
5. Frozen sweet peas
15. Sweet potatoes
Overall, these 15 foods can be eaten without worrying about harmful chemicals, which makes sense. Most of these foods have thick protective skin layers or shells, which naturally ward off pests. The others are buried deep in the soil and, as long as the soil isn’t irradiated with Round Up or some other harmful chemical, the fruit should be fine.
Some notable findings from EWG’s research on the Clean Fifteen: (8)
- None of the Clean Fifteen foods tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides
- Avocados are the best, with only 1% of samples showing any detectable pesticides.
- 89% of pineapples, 88% of mango, 82% of kiwi, 80% of papayas, and 61% of cantaloupe had no residues.
- Only 5.5% of the Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.
Is Buying Organic Worth It?
We must be cautious when we shop for our groceries as these harmful pesticides can be hidden ingredients. As a consumer who is concerned with natural health and disease reversal, it is important to educate yourself on what you and your family are eating.
Although organic foods are more expensive and can be more challenging to find at the grocery store, buying organic is definitely the easiest decision you can ever make for you and your family's health.
Remember to grow your own food as much as possible and join a local, organic co-op if you can. If you absolutely must purchase non-organic produce, stay away from the Dirty Dozen Plus 2 and keep in mind that organic grains, dairy and most other products are certainly the healthiest way to go.