For those of us looking to lighten our environmental footprint, reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and enjoy better quality food, organics seem a natural choice. However, there is still a great deal of confusion about what organic standards are and what the true benefits of organic foods might be. Recent headlines have dismissed some of the health claims on organic produce questioning whether they really are better for you? As multi-national corporations enter the organics game, does it dilute the integrity of the movement? Should you buy organic tomatoes shipped from Mexico or non-organic tomatoes grown close to home? In a complex food system, questions and choices will always exist. However, a picture of how organics fit into a conscious lifestyle is beginning to emerge.
At its heart, the organic movement began as a step away from intensive, industrialized agriculture and a movement towards a method of growing food that was more in harmony with the natural environment. While organic production methods prohibit the use of caustic fertilizers and pesticides derived from fossil fuels, it is not accurate to say that no pesticides or fertilizers are used. For example, certain micronutrients may be added to soils, however, it must be documented that the soil has been tested and proven to be deficient in a nutrient before use. Organic regulations also instruct manufacturers on how food is processed and which inputs can be used in manufacturing. While organic foods may contain fewer synthetics, an organic label is not a green light to eat with abandon. Organic snack foods and treats such as granola bars, cookies or ice creams are still to be enjoyed only as an occasional treat in a healthy diet. Organic candy is still candy!
When it comes to the health benefits of organic produce, the waters are murkier. Previous research has found no increased nutrient levels in organic food. As research methodology grows more sophisticated, however, this is starting to change. One emerging research area is detection of phyto-chemicals. It is thought that phyto-chemicals are a plant’s self-defense system, so by applying herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, we potentially reduce phyto-chemical levels. In 2011, a team of Spanish researchers published evidence in the Journal of Food Chemistry that found organic tomato juice to have higher levels of phenolic compounds than conventional juice. This is research that will need to be confirmed but it is a promising avenue, especially given the unique role that phyto-chemicals play in our health.
Research has suggested connections between synthetic pesticide exposure and cancer, but a definitive link remains to be seen. Speaking in their 2010 Report, however, the President’s Cancer Panel in the US said “All American’s should eat organic” due to these risks. So, when faced with balancing our food budget, do we really need to eat organic? In a healing diet, reducing any potential strains on our bodies makes good sense and many options exist for prioritizing your food dollar. First, because many hormones and environmental toxins accumulate in animal fat, it is wise to purchase organic animal foods if you eat them. With respect to produce, some fruits and vegetables come with a heftier exposure to pesticide residues. Consult the“Dirty Dozen”, a list updated yearly by the Environmental Working Group that lists the most contaminated crops. Purchase the Dirty Dozen as organic produce when you can afford it and select alternatives when organic isn’t possible.
However, no matter what you do – don’t stop eating your produce! The beneficial compounds in fruits and veggies are some of the most critical components of a healing diet, organic or not.
Desiree Nielsen, RD, Choices Dietitian
For more grocery and cooking tips, I invite you to visit us in store or to come along on an InspireHealth Nutrition Tour. To support the InspireHealth community, we are pleased to offer this new, exciting, complimentary service every other Friday at 11:30am at our Kitsilano location. The key InspireHealth food and nutrition teachings will be put into practice at the grocery store with Choices’ dietitian. You can learn practical tips and techniques for incorporating more healthful foods into your life and also understand more about foods you should be cautious towards.
Tours are FREE and open to all InspireHealth members, however, registration is required. Please call 604-734-7125 to join the next tour!