Organically Grown Food: Is It Really A Better Choice?

     

Is organic food really healthier? Is it worth the expense? Find out what the labels mean and which foods give you the most bang for your buck.

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What does “organic” mean?

The term “organic” refers to lớn the way agricultural products are grown & processed. While the regulations vary from country to lớn country, in the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs).

Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (such as the ability khổng lồ graze on pasture) và fed organic feed & forage. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.

Organic vs. Non-Organic
Organic produce:Conventionally-grown produce:
Grown with natural fertilizers (manure, compost).Grown with synthetic or chemical fertilizers.
Weeds are controlled naturally (crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, và tilling) or with organic-approved herbicides.Weeds are controlled with chemical herbicides.
Pests are controlled using natural methods (birds, insects, traps) and naturally-derived pesticides.Pests are controlled with synthetic pesticides
Organic meat, dairy, eggs:Conventionally-raised meat, dairy, eggs
Livestock are given all organic, hormone- & GMO-free feed.Livestock are given growth hormones for faster growth, as well as non-organic, GMO feed.
Disease is prevented with natural methods such as clean housing, rotational grazing, và healthy diet.Antibiotics & medications are used to lớn prevent livestock disease.
Livestock must have access to the outdoors.Livestock may or may not have access khổng lồ the outdoors.

The benefits of organic food

How your food is grown or raised can have a major impact on your mental & emotional health as well as the environment. Organic foods often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, than their conventionally-grown counterparts and people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives may find their symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organic foods.

Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Chemicals such as synthetic fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture và residues remain on (and in) the food we eat.

Organic food is often fresher because it doesn’t contain preservatives that make it last longer. Organic produce is sometimes (but not always, so watch where it is from) produced on smaller farms nearer khổng lồ where it is sold.

Organic farming tends khổng lồ be better for the environment. Organic farming practices may reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. Farming without synthetic pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close khổng lồ farms.

Organically raised animals are NOT given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts. Feeding livestock animal byproducts increases the risk of mad cow disease (BSE) and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Organically-raised animals tend to lớn be given more space to lớn move around and access to lớn the outdoors, which helps to lớn keep them healthy.

Organic meat and milk can be richer in certain nutrients. Results of a 2016 European study show that levels of certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, were up khổng lồ 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions.

Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to lớn be resistant lớn pesticides or produce an insecticide.


Organic food vs. Locally-grown food

Unlike organic standards, there is no specific definition for “local food”. It could be grown in your local community, your state, your region, or your country. During large portions of the year it is usually possible to find food grown close to home at places such as a farmer’s market.

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The benefits of locally grown food

Financial: Money stays within the local economy. More money goes directly khổng lồ the farmer, instead of khổng lồ things like marketing and distribution.

Transportation: In the U.S., for example, the average distance a meal travels from the farm khổng lồ the dinner plate is over 1,500 miles. Produce must be picked while still unripe và then gassed to “ripen” it after transport. Or the food is highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, & other means to lớn keep it stable for transport.

Freshness: Local food is harvested when ripe and thus fresher và full of flavor.

Some small local farmers use organic methods but may not be able to afford to lớn become certified organic. Visit a farmer’s market & talk with the farmers to find out what methods they use.

Understanding GMOs

The ongoing debate about the effects of GMOs on health & the environment is a controversial one. In most cases, GMOs are engineered khổng lồ make food crops resistant khổng lồ herbicides and/or lớn produce an insecticide. For example, much of the sweet corn consumed in the U.S. Is genetically engineered khổng lồ be resistant to the herbicide Roundup and to produce its own insecticide, Bt Toxin.

GMOs are also commonly found in U.S. Crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, squash, zucchini, papaya, và canola, & are present in many breakfast cereals and much of the processed food that we eat. If the ingredients on a package include corn syrup or soy lecithin, chances are it contains GMOs.

GMOs & pesticides

The use of toxic herbicides lượt thích Roundup (glyphosate) has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. While the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” there is still some controversy over the level of health risks posed by the use of pesticides.


Are GMOs safe?

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) và the biotech companies that engineer GMOs insist they are safe, many food safety advocates point out that no long term studies have ever been conducted lớn confirm the safety of GMO use, while some animal studies have indicated that consuming GMOs may cause internal organ damage, slowed brain growth, & thickening of the digestive tract.

GMOs have been linked lớn increased food allergens and gastrointestinal problems in humans. While many people think that altering the DNA of a plant or animal can increase the risk of cancer, the research has so far proven inconclusive.


Does organic mean pesticide-free?

As mentioned above, one of the primary benefits of eating organic is lower levels of pesticides. However, despite popular belief, organic farms vì use pesticides. The difference is that they only use naturally-derived pesticides, rather than the synthetic pesticides used on conventional commercial farms. Natural pesticides are believed khổng lồ be less toxic, however, some have been found to have health risks. That said, your exposure to harmful pesticides will likely be lower when eating organic.

What are the possible risks of pesticides?

Most of us have an accumulated build-up of pesticide exposure in our bodies due to numerous years of exposure. This chemical “body burden” as it is medically known could lead to health issues such as headaches, birth defects, và added strain on weakened immune systems.

Some studies have indicated that the use of pesticides even at low doses can increase the risk of certain cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, breast cancer & prostate cancer.

Children & fetuses are most vulnerable to lớn pesticide exposure because their immune systems, bodies, và brains are still developing. Exposure at an early age may cause developmental delays, behavioral disorders, autism, immune system harm, and motor dysfunction.

Pregnant women are more vulnerable due to lớn the added ức chế pesticides put on their already taxed organs. Plus, pesticides can be passed from mother lớn child in the womb, as well as through breast milk.

The widespread use of pesticides has also led lớn the emergence of “super weeds”“super bugs,” which can only be killed with extremely toxic poisons lượt thích 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a major ingredient in Agent Orange).


Does washing and peeling get rid of pesticides?

Rinsing fresh produce reduces but does not eliminate pesticides. Peeling sometimes helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the skin. The best approach: eat a varied diet, wash & scrub all produce thoroughly, & buy organic when possible.


The best bang for your buck when shopping organic

Organic food is often more expensive than conventionally-grown food. But if you mix some priorities, it may be possible to lớn purchase organic food & stay within your food budget.

Know your produce pesticide levels

Some types of conventionally-grown produce are much higher in pesticides than others, và should be avoided when possible. Others are low enough that buying non-organic is relatively safe.

Fruits và vegetables where the organic label matters most

According khổng lồ the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the results of government pesticide testing in the U.S., the following fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide levels, so are best lớn buy organic:

ApplesSweet Bell PeppersCucumbersCeleryPotatoesGrapesCherry TomatoesKale/Collard GreensSummer SquashNectarines (imported)PeachesSpinachStrawberriesHot Peppers

Known as the “Clean 15”, these conventionally-grown fruits và vegetables are generally low in pesticides:

AsparagusAvocadoMushroomsCabbageSweet CornEggplantKiwiMangoOnionPapayaPineappleSweet Peas (frozen)Sweet PotatoesGrapefruitCantaloupe

Buy organic meat, eggs, và dairy if you can afford to

In the U.S., industrially-raised animals may be fed corn, grains, antibiotics, animal byproducts, growth hormones, pesticides, and sewage sludge. These practices can have health consequences for both the animals themselves & people consuming their meat, eggs, or milk.

If you can afford to pay the higher prices, look for beef và dairy products labeled “pasture raised” or “100% grass fed.” For pork, chicken, or eggs, look for a “certified organic” label. You may find that buying cheaper cuts of meat from organically raised animals enables you lớn eat organic without breaking your food budget. Try buying organic chicken thighs instead of conventionally raised chicken breasts, for example.

Other ways khổng lồ keep the cost of organic food within your budget

Shop at farmers’ markets. Many cities, as well as small towns, host a weekly farmers’ market, where local farmers sell their produce at an open-air street market, often at a discount lớn grocery stores.

Join a food co-op. A natural foods co-op, or cooperative grocery store typically offers lower prices to lớn members, who pay an annual fee to lớn belong

Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, in which individuals và families join up khổng lồ purchase “shares” of produce in bulk, directly from a local farm. Local and organic!

Organic food buying tips

Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables are cheapest và freshest when they are in season. Find out when produce is delivered khổng lồ your market so you’re buying the freshest food possible.

Shop around. Compare the price of organic items at the grocery store, the farmers’ market, online, & in other venues (even the freezer aisle).

Remember that organic doesn’t always equal healthy. Making junk food sound healthy is a common sale ploy in the food industry but organic baked goods, desserts, và snacks are usually still very high in sugar, salt, fat, or calories. It pays khổng lồ read food labels carefully.

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Why is organic food often more expensive?

Organic food is more labor intensive since the farmers bởi not use synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or drugs. Organic certification is expensive & organic feed for animals can cost twice as much. Organic farms tend lớn be smaller than conventional farms, which means fixed costs & overhead must be distributed across smaller produce volumes without government subsidies.


Where to shop for organic food

To find farmers’ markets, organic farms, & grocery co-ops in your area, visit:


Organic Foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? – Differences between organic và conventional foods. (MayoClinic.com)

Organic FAQs – Reasons to lớn go organic. (Organic.org)

Animal Feed – How livestock feed affects animal health, & the health of people who consume animal products. (FoodPrint)

GMO Facts – Frequently asked questions on the use & safety of GMOs. (Non GMO Project)

Where GMOs hide in your food – Details tests that found GMOs in many packaged foods—including those labeled ‘natural.’ (Consumer Reports)

The Problem with Pesticides – Examines some of the potential health effects of pesticides. (Toxics action Center)