Organic Diet Basics
Is an organic diet really better for us? There are many claims that float around regarding the benefits of eating organic, from higher nutrient content to it being better for the environment. So, what is the truth? Let’s first start by looking into what it means for a food to be labeled as organic.
The USDA has a rigorous certification program with specific criteria that food producers and farmers must meet if they want to be able to put the ‘USDA Certified Organic’ stamp on their goods. For fruits and vegetables, they must be produced without the use of pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge-based fertilizers and they must stay separated from conventionally (non-organic) grown produce.
For animals raised for meat, dairy, and eggs, they must be free of antibiotics and growth hormones. These animals are also required to have access to the outdoors where they can graze and are fed a 100% organic diet.
For products that have more than one ingredient (non-produce items), such as granolas, protein bars or crackers, they must be made up of 95% organic ingredients in order to use the ‘USDA Certified Organic’ label.
There are some conflicting studies out there on whether or not organic foods are better for our health or not. One study claims that organic produce provides 20-40% more antioxidants than the same amount of conventional produce. If true, this would mean eating organic produce for your five daily servings would provide the same amount of antioxidants as eating 6-7 servings of conventionally grown produce.1 Another study, out of Stanford, claims that this is not actually the case. After looking at over 200 studies, the researchers found that there is no proof that organic foods provide more vitamins and minerals than conventional produce.2 While it is still not clear whether or not organic farming is providing us with more nutritious food, there are many benefits of buying and eating organically.
The use of antibiotics in animals produced for meat is a growing concern, as many people are worried that using them is helping create antibiotic-resistant illnesses. While cases like this are very rare, such as mad cow disease which has fewer than 1,000 cases per year, it is still a rising concern that these practices will produce a superbug. Diseases like mad cow are passed from cows to humans through the consumption of diseased meat.
Many of the benefits to buying and eating organically come down to the environment. Farming is already a contributing factor to many environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions. Farming that uses pesticides has a negative effect on the air and water quality surrounding the farms. Since many pesticides are sprayed on an entire field of crops, the wind carries those chemicals to other areas such as open fields and residential areas.
Much of the pesticides also get transported through our water systems via stormwater runoff. The chemicals get into our rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans, poisoning the plants and animals who call those environments home. The pesticides from farms that end up in natural habitats have been linked to the death of wild birds, mass death of bees, negative effects on plant and flower growth along with many other issues. Farming uses almost half of the land in the world, so it is important to do what we can to keep that land healthy and in turn keep the earth healthy, and part of that is healthy farming practices.3
Another big concern associated with traditional farming practices is the health implications for the workers who are spraying the chemicals and then handling the sprayed produce. While there are many safety guidelines and rules in place to protect the workers, many of them are not followed as closely as they should be. This can lead to respiratory, digestive, reproductive and dermatological issues in workers.
Though is it still up in the air as to whether eating organically is actually more nutritious than conventionally grown and produced food, there are many reasons that making the switch is a good idea. Organic food does have a reputation of being significantly more expensive than conventional, so if making a complete switch is not possible, familiarize yourself with the dirty dozen and choose organic when you can.
1. “New Study Finds Health Benefits of Organic Food.” The Organic Center. The Organic Center, 11 July 2014. Web.
2. Fung, Brian. “Organic Food Isn’t More Nutritious, but That Isn’t the Point.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 4 September 2012. Web.
3. Owen, James. “Farming Claims Almost Half Earth’s Land, New Maps Show.” National Geographic News. National Geographic Society, 9 December 2009. Web.