Question: I was at the supermarket recently and I noticed that organic fruits, veggies, meat and dairy are all so much more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. I have heard that eating organic is better for you. Are organic foods better for your health and do you recommend eating organic?
Answer: This is a great question. There’s no doubt that we are definitely seeing more organic foods on the shelves than we ever have. Some people choose organic foods for the taste but other people choose organic foods because of environmental or health concerns. These products are often double or even triple the cost of the non-organic version. Why is this? To understand more about organic foods, let’s look at what the word organic really means. If a food is deemed organic, this means that product itself or is comprised of ingredients that have been grown and processed in very different and more natural ways than conventional farms. A farm that uses organic processes utilizes natural methods to reduce pollution and control weeds. Organic farmers also do not use chemical fertilizer or harsh weed killing chemicals to keep weeds at bay and use organic feed for livestock to produce milk and other animal products. These farming practices are a lot more expensive and often yield less product than conventional farming methods that focus on producing larger quantities of the same foods and this is reflected in the prices you see for organic products at the grocery store.
Unfortunately, much of the research related to the long term benefit of consuming organic foods instead of their conventional counterparts at this point is limited. Despite this, I will lay out the many reasons why choosing to eat some organic foods is better for you. Ultimately it is a personal choice and one that must be made with careful decision since organic foods can be very pricey. These days so many of the items we see at the grocery store are loaded with chemicals and additives and despite providing little nutritional value, it’s a wonder what effect these substances have on our bodies. And it doesn’t stop at highly processed foods. By the time fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry arrive at the grocery store, they have undergone a number of processes that expose our food to unwanted chemicals, fertilizers, antibiotics and even growth hormones or steroids. I was pretty oblivious to all of this five years ago when I thought all that I needed to do was shop the perimeter of the grocery store and eat “clean” to eat healthy. I personally switched to organic meat and dairy a few years ago.
I came to the decision to choose organic foods more often after I heard a shocking story from a friend of mine. I was at a dinner party my girlfriend was telling me about a peculiar situation with her daughter who was only 6 years old and had started to develop body odor. When she took her child to the doctor, the doctor suggested a gamut of tests and medications as well as prescription deodorant for her daughter. The doctor basically suggested that my friend’s six year old had started puberty early. My girlfriend was pretty upset by this treatment plan and decided to take her daughter to a naturopath for a second opinion. The naturopath that she saw suggested simply switching the family’s milk to organic cow’s milk and see if that helped her daughter’s smelly situation. Within a couple of weeks, her daughter no longer had body odor! After I heard this story, I began to a do a little research myself on this subject and I was shocked at what I found. Some researchers suggest that the hormones used to produce some of the foods we eat can contribute to a number of diseases, childhood obesity, early puberty and possibly even cancer. A major difference between organic and conventional farming is that organic farmers also do not use bovine growth hormone (BGH) to increase cow’s milk production. Conventional farms routinely use BGH that forces the cows to produce massive amounts of milk causing stretching of their udders which can lead to bacteria and very painful udder infections. The milk is then pasteurized and it is believed that the bacteria, antibiotics and hormones are not completely removed during this process. Many farmers also use growth hormones and steroids to promote rapid weight gain in cattle, increasing total meat volume when the cows are slaughtered. These hormones enter the meat and milk, exposing children to potentially harmful chemicals. The FDA has approved the use of BGH and a number of other growth hormones because currently, there isn’t enough research to support the claim that the amountof exogenous hormones in meat and milk is harmful to humans. Regardless of what any study says, I take such good care of myself so that I feel great, enjoy my life and prevent disease- there is no way I would knowingly put all those chemicals in my body! Furthermore, I definitely don’t want to expose my kids to those substances! This fact is the main reason why I always choose organic poultry, eggs, dairy and meat for my family.
When it comes to produce, there are several hundred different chemical pesticides and fertilizers used in conventional farming that remain on our produce even after we wash them. These chemicals have been around for many years and are mainly used in farming to keep crops healthy and to prevent insects and pests from wasting crops. Organic farms use natural fertilizers like manure to accomplish this same task. There is some debate that chemical pesticides can be linked to asthma and other chronic diseases. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don’t exceed government safety thresholds. There is also little evidence that suggests that organic produce is better for you or is more nutritious. I typically don’t purchase organic fruits and veggies since I am not as concerned about pesticides as I am about growth hormones in meat and dairy. Organic produce also tends to spoil quicker than their conventional counterparts and that is an issue for me since I do not have time to shop for groceries every couple of days.
General health aside, there are plenty of other wonderful benefits to our environment by choosing organic foods. Organic farming is better for the environment and kinder to animals. Organic farms allow animals to graze naturally and provide them ample access to the outdoors. Animals in organic farms are fed with natural feed and given a better quality of milk and thus produce higher quality meat and dairy. In factory farms where massive amounts of dairy and meat are produced, animals are confined and enormous amounts of urine and manure are produced that can also potentially pollute our environment.
Hopefully I have provided you with some rationale as to why it is a good idea to, when possible, shed out extra dough for some organic foods and save on others. There is one major thing to remember here- Just because a product is labeled organic doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good for you. Organic treats and snacks like cookies and potato chips, while organic, also contain high amounts of fat, calories and sodium which aren’t necessarily healthy choices. There is still a great debate about the health benefits of organic foods over foods that are conventionally farmed. So let’s say everything that I have read IS false concern- what have I lost? Ok, so I’m out a few extra dollars that I have put into my grocery bill. But what if all of these suggestions are true? That’s a very scary thought. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s health.
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