Is organic produce really better for me? Food trend or food fact.
Imagine what your grandparents would think of some of the foods available to eat today. Would they even recognize it? Food never needed to be specified as organic vs. conventionally grown. The industrialization of our food systems has drastically changed what we consider as food. Creating processed edible products from GMO ingredients that are mono-crops covered in pesticides can hardly be the type of fuel your body was designed to need. In response to these practices, the last few decades has seen a return back to appreciating and cultivating organic produce that is indigenous to the land its being grown in.
I bet you’re wondering, how bad is all that processed food really? Isn’t a tomato just a tomato? You would be right in thinking that a conventionally grown tomato is better than no tomato at all. Something I tell my patients is that it is better to get vegetables and fruit in your diet any way that works for you, rather than not at all. One of the benefits of eating organic is that the nutrient content is higher than in conventional produce. When the same crops are grown year after year in the same spot, the soil gets depleted of the nutrients that that particular plant usually sequesters from the earth. Traditional farming practices rotate crops so that if a plant one year depletes nitrogen form the soil, what is planted the following year will put nitrogen back in to the soil. There are numerous indigenous and biodynamic farming practices that take these subtleties into account.
The other reason to consider buying organic produce is the way pesticides are used by conventional growers. Some commercial agriculture relies heavily on these chemicals to get bigger and better crop yields, not acknowledging the negatives effects these compounds can have on our health. Pesticides have the potential to harm many of our body’s systems, especially as they accumulate over time. Some consequences on our health from pesticide exposure includes; cancer, increased risk of alzheimer’s, endocrine disorders, and birth defects. Not only can they impact your health, they also are negatively affecting the environment by decimating the bee populations and contaminating our water systems.
Not all organic farms are equal. Organic is becoming more and more popular, and growers are looking to cash in on this increase in demand. Organic farms still use pesticides, which may be a surprise. The substances they use are different from the synthietic ones found in conventional farming, but still cary their own risks. Your local farmer may be farming ethically and sustainably, but not meet the government requirements to claim they are certified organic. This highlights how sometimes, local can be a better (and often more affordable) option than organic from a city or country far, far away. This also enables to you know more about the source of your food, if you want to be certain about what you’re eating.
Isn’t organic expensive? Yes, organic does generally cost a bit more, and I’m not suggesting that you need to start out buying organic mustard and ketchup too, but it’s good to be aware of the worst offending foods when it comes to toxic load. The Environmental Working Group puts together a list each year of “The Dirty Dozen” of conventionally grown produce. They also have created a list of “The Clean Fifteen” which are fruits and vegetables that are not as important to buy organic. If you are making the switch and trying to incorporate organic produce into your diet, this is a good place to start.
There is always a new food trend, or popular diet that it seems everyone is talking about. The idea of eating locally, and organically is not about a fad; it’s about eating food the way we used to. As Michael Pollan would say, “Eat whole foods, mostly plants, not too much”. By feeding your body with nourishing foods made from ingredients you can recognize and pronounce, not only will your meals be more delicious, you will be improving your health simply by eating the foods your body needs, taking something you do every day and turning into a way to optimize your health.