Is Organic More Nutritious?

Many of you might have read the somewhat recent Harvard University study concluding that organic foods are no more nutritious than non-organic, or conventional foods.  Unfortunately, this study failed to point out the many other reasons that people might choose organic over conventionally produces or raised foods.

First let’s take a look at the definition of the USDA organic label, which requires:

  • no human sewage sludge fertilizer used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals
  • avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides,antibiotics, food additives, etc.), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge;
  • use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more)
  • keeping detailed written production and sales records
  • maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products
  • undergoing periodic on-site inspections.

Just in case anybody is wondering… non-organic foods can include any of the above listed.

What are some of the benefits to choosing organic?

Significantly Lower Pesticide Residue in Produce
Studies have shown that those who consume organic produce versus conventional, have significantly less pesticide levels in the blood.  There have been no long term conclusive studies that show long term health benefits.  

Maintains Soil Integrity
With the Organic Certification prohibiting the use of sewer sludge and persistent pesticides, soil integrity is maintained to allow for natural fertilization via compost, earthworms, and other beneficial insects.

Protects Water and Aquaculture from Chemical Pollution
Any pesticides used in farming are usually subject to run off during rain or snow seasons, and will eventually end up in a water source, potentially harming aquaculture.  

Ensures NO Genetical Modifications Have Been Made to Your Food
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs, which I will talk about it another post), have been infecting the US food system for years, and may be the cause of the rise in allergies and food intolerances.  Some have been shown to cause stomach rupture an death in rats.

Safer Working Conditions for Farmers
Farmers on Organic farms are not subject to working with harmful pesticides and chemicals.  

Now the main problem with this study is how it was conducted.  It is a meta analysis, which basically takes the results from a bunch of other studies that have been done on the same subject, and unfortunately, doesn’t account for the thousands of variables that can take place in each.  While this study shows no conclusive evidence that organic food is more nutritious that non-organic food, there have been some that show that produce grown organically has a higher nutritional content that conventional.

It is important to understand the organic label for what it is, and keep in mind that just because something is organic doesn’t mean that is necessarily healthy.  Some of the over-processed organic foods probably cause as much waste and pollution as their conventional counterparts, and may be no healthier.  Also, it is important to keep in mind that many smaller, local-to-you farms may not have the financial ability to obtain an organic certification, but may be participating in organic practices.  That’s why it never hurts to know your farmer!

So what’s the consensus?  To choose organic or to not?  Well, when choosing whole foods (like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, meats, eggs, and cheeses), I think that choosing organic (for the most part) is the best choice, mainly for the reasons listed above.  With the exception of smaller farms, where you might have a good relationship with the farmer, and can best understand their farming practices.

When it comes to processed foods, I think it really depends on your agenda.  Some of us might choose organic cookies for our kids, to ensure that they are not laden with pesticides, and more often than not, organic processed foods use less additives and fillers than the alternative (but not always).

What is your reason for choosing, or not choosing organic foods?     

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