Organic food is increasing in popularity, but it’s not just because it’s a fad. It because consumers are becoming more savvy and want to look after themselves, and our planet. The research done on organic food proves that it’s better for us, and it’s becoming harder for the big companies to deny it.
What does organic mean?
The word ‘organic’ is used to describe food that has been grown without the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, growth regulators and hormones, antibiotics, and livestock feed additives. This means working with nature rather than against it, by recycling natural materials, maintaining soil fertility and encouraging natural methods of pest and disease control, rather than relying on chemicals. Crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, green manures, legumes, organic wastes, mineral-bearing rock, and biological pest controls are used by organic farmers to raise whole, natural foods.
Benefits of Organic Foods
It’s often claimed that a large number of studies have found no difference in the nutrient content of organic and non-organic crops. It’s true there have been more than a hundred studies comparing the nutrient content of organic and non-organic foods and the results are inconclusive. But this is because the majority of studies are of poor quality, being either agriculturally or analytically flawed.
Official food composition tables, including data compiled by the US Department of Agriculture, reveal that since the 1940s the mineral levels in fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy have declined substantially in conventional foods. Combine this with earlier (pre-ripened) picking, longer storage, and more processing of crops, and it’s not surprising that we may be getting fewer nutrients in our food than we were 60 years ago.
The artificial fertilization associated with conventional crops produces lush growth by swelling produce with more water. On a pound-for-pound basis, organic food has more “dry matter” (i.e. food). Partly because of this (and for other reasons too), there are higher levels of nutrients in organic produce.
We can expect also that phytonutrients, many of which are antioxidants involved in the plant’s own defense system, will be higher in organic produce because crops rely more on their own defenses in the absence of regular applications of chemical pesticides. Evidence is emerging that confirms this expectation. Higher levels have so far been found of lycopene in organic tomatoes, polyphenols in organic potatoes, flavonols in organic apples, and resveratrol in organic red wine. A recent review of the subject estimated that organic produce will tend to contain 10-50% higher phytonutrients than conventional produce. These phytonutrients have important roles in our body protecting us from disease and promoting healthy aging.
Recent research has showed that:
Conventionally grown fruit and vegetables in the USA have about half the vitamin content of their counterparts in 1963.
On average organic foods contain about one-third higher in antioxidants than comparable conventional produce.
Two independent, comprehensive reviews of (around 40) studies that compare the differences between organic and conventional foods came up with similar conclusions showing that there is overwhelming evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. Heaton stated: ‘On average our research found higher vitamin C, higher mineral levels and higher phytonutrients – plant compounds which can be effective against cancer.’
The use of antibiotics, anti-microbials, hormones and other growth promotants are prohibited in organic production. If animals are treated with veterinary chemicals, they are not allowed to be sold as organic. Similarly the use of synthetic chemicals as preservatives, colourings, antioxidants etc are prohibited in the processing of organic foods. There is an increasing body of concern about these synthetic compounds in the diets of humans and animals used for human food.
Research from the University of Hawaii has found that people who consume processed meats have a 6,700% increased risk of pancreatic cancer over those who consume little or no processed meat products. The researchers concluded that sodium nitrite, a chemical used in nearly all non organic processed meats was the cause of the very alarming cancer rates.
It’s regularly claimed by the mainstream food industry that pesticide residues in foods are known to be safe on the basis of total diet surveys that supposedly find the levels of pesticide residues in our food to be very low and within acceptable safety limits. But monitoring programs consistently show that around one in three non-organic food samples tested contains a variety of pesticide residues, with far lower levels being found in and on organic produce. Conventional-food proponents also claim that rigorous safety assessments show that pesticide residues are no threat to human health. Yet consumers intuitively know this is a false assurance.
The problem is that most pesticide-residue safety levels are set for individual pesticides, but many samples of fresh produce carry multiple pesticide residues. Rules often do not take into account the “cocktail effect” of combinations of pesticides in and on foods. Research is emerging confirming the potential for such synergistic increases in toxicity of up to 100-fold, resulting in reproductive, immune and nervous system effects not expected from the individual compounds acting alone.
Israeli researchers have linked symptoms such as headaches, tremor, lack of energy, depression, anxiety, poor memory, dermatitis, convulsions, nausea, indigestion and diarrhoea with dietary intakes of pesticides. Belgian research has found that women diagnosed with breast cancer are six to nine times more likely to have the pesticides DDT or hexachlorobenzene in their bloodstreams compared to women who did not have breast cancer.
The British Medical Association appears to agree:
“Until we have a more complete understanding of pesticide toxicity, the benefit of the doubt should be awarded to protecting the environment, the worker, and the consumer—this precautionary approach is necessary because the data on risk to human health from exposure to pesticides are incomplete.”
Peer reviewed published research has demonstrated that many of these types of chemicals are known to disrupt the hormone, nervous and immune systems. The escalating increase of certain types of cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, breast, uterine and prostate cancers are linked to agricultural and other synthetic chemicals. Similarly, a good body of scientific research also links these chemicals to the dramatic increases in disease like chronic fatigue syndrome. Cancers such as Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma have gone from being one of the rarest cancers to one of the fastest growing cancers amongst people exposed to agricultural chemicals.
A detailed scientific analysis of organic fruits and vegetables in the USA, published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, showed that organic foods have significantly less pesticide residues than conventionally grown foods.
Children’s immature and developing organs, brains, detoxification and immune systems, plus their larger intake of food per kilo of body weight combine to make them even more susceptible to toxins than adults. Research has shown repeatedly that organic food significantly lowers children’s dietary exposure to pesticides, lowering their exposure from above to below recognized safety levels.
The facts show that organic foods have health benefits because of higher nutritional values. They excel in the antioxidants that prevent heart disease, cancers, anti-inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
How to buy ‘organic’
- Look for the certification stamp on the labeling of the products; In Australia, any organic food or product that is sold must display a certification symbol or number by law. The symbol means that the product meets government standards.
- Buy from a reputable retailer;
- If there is no stamp, question the retailer on the authenticity of the products until you are satisfied that it is the ‘real deal’.
- Remember that Organic foods have a shorter shelf life when compared to conventional foods, as they contain no chemical food preservatives as conventional foods do. This means that you should plan your meals out so that food doesn’t get wasted (which would be a shame, as it’s more expensive).
Organic foods may be found and purchased from your local health food shop, organic fruit and vegie store or farmers markets or online.
Organic Shops and Sites
Bare Roots Organic & Health
Shop 4 7 Ward Place, Dural
02 9651 5561
Blue Mountains Food Co-op
Shop 1-2 Ha’Penny Lane, Katoomba
(under the PostOffice shop)
02 4782 5890
Green Hills Organics
Shop 4/328 Windsor St, Richmond
02 45885377 or 0412180749
Hawkesbury Organic Food Co-op
23 Bosworth St, Richmond
Operates every Thursday evening from 5pm-6.30pm
Honest to Goodness
In Harmony Health Baulkham Hills
Shop 59 Stockland Mall, Baulkham Hills
02 9688 6797
The Organic Grocer
Penrith Organic Health
437 High St
Penrith NSW 2750
Real Good Food
If you know of an organic shop or site that’s not listed here, please let me know!