Organic vs Non-Organic: Confusing but worth the read; I promise :-)

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imagesOrganic food is certainly more expensive – but is it actually any better for you? I am confused…..

It’s never nice to think that you are, potentially, being taken for a mug. I have been eating organic food as much as I can now for about three years, but each time I see a new and emotive headline about the alleged pros or cons of eating organic, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s really worth the extra cost. Everyone I talk to about this seems equally confused. I know there’s no proof that it’s more nutritious per se, but I’m confident that organic farming techniques are better for the environment – but is organic better for your health? All we ever seem to get are conflicting stories.

There are a number of reasons why people buy organic food – some talk about superior taste, others of a belief that organic farming methods are more environmentally sustainable. But the principal reason given is the belief that organic food must be healthier (which has always been my reason for buying organic) – that food containing traces, however minuscule, of pesticides, cannot ultimately be that good for you, or for your children.

Coincidentally or not my son came in today talking about a visit to our local Wholefood store organised by his wonderful primary school! Bless that headteacher!

I dont care if the shop was after the children’s future business or their parents costume…all I am focusing is their intention to my children’s future better by teaching them to eat well, organically and healthy…. then, before I could caught my next breath my son asked “Mum, do we have to eat organic food at all time? Explain to me please what organic really entails”…. I could see his eager to be reassured by his mother that all he heard today in his school outing to the health store is what we are supposed to live by. For a minute I thought….let me get it straight…. yes we are supposed to eat organic food, in season preferably, less cooked as possible etc….but….who guarantees all we buy labored ‘organic’  are really pesticides-free thus 100% organic? Government? A special agency? Who monitors that? Well, before I promised him to reconvene to this same topic tomorrow. Now, let me crack on researching…

So I broke down my research in 5 parts:

  1. definition of organic and non-organic
  2. the key difference between the two
  3. recent research findings
  4. what to buy organic and not
  5. managing the high cost of organic foods

1. Definition of organic and non-organic

What organic really means?

Animals have not been treated with: antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts. Animals must have been fed organic feed for at least a year. Animals must have access to the outdoors. Food hasn’t been genetically modified or irradiated. Fertilizer does not contain sewage sludge or synthetic ingredients. Produce hasn’t been contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.

2. The key difference between the two

Organic food The WHO and UN define organic agriculture as a holistic system that “enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity”. The use of artificial chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides are severely restricted. GM materials are banned. Farms are inspected once a year.

Non-organic food Farmers can draw on a wide range of chemicals to help beat off pests, weeds and fungus, as well as help increase yield. A potato, for example, may receive up to 10 types of chemical application before being harvested; this may include sulphuric acid, which dehydrates the stems.

Now…lets move on to a more tangible finding…

3. Recent research findings

A new research on this topic by the Newcastle University in 2014 suggested:

  • The analysis presents strong evidence that switching to food produced using organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants, without increased calories, as well as reduced intake of potentially harmful cadmium and pesticides.
  • Reduction in pesticides: Organic food consumption can reduce exposure to synthetic pesticide residues. This study found that the frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues was four times higher in conventionally produced rather than organic crops.
  • A switch to consuming organic crops would allow a 20–40% (and for some compounds up to a 70%) increase in antioxidant/(poly)phenolic consumption without an increase in calorie intake.
  • Toxic heavy metals – The meta-analysis detected substantially (48%) lower concentrations of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in organic (as opposed to non-organic) crops, but no significant differences for other toxic metals (e.g. arsenic and lead).
  • Nitrogen – concentrations were found to be significantly lower in organic crops, specifically, concentrations of total nitrogen were 10%, nitrate 30% and nitrite 87% lower in organic compared to conventional crops. High nitrate and in particular nitrite intake has been linked in some studies to an increased risk of certain cancers (e.g. stomach cancer) but there is significant ongoing debate about the health impacts of high nitrate/nitrite intake.
  • Pesticides – The frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues is four times higher in conventional crops. Conventionally produced fruit had the highest pesticide frequency (75%) compared to conventional vegetables (32%) and crop-based compound foods (45%).

4. What to buy organic and not

The “Dirty Dozen”: Must-buy organic foods:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Imported chilies
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

Other organic foods worth considering:

  • Milk
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Seafood – wild or farmed fish can be labeled organic, despite the presence of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.

Reduces the risk of exposure to the agent believed to cause mad cow disease and minimize exposure to other potential toxins in non-organic feed. These foods contain no hormones, and antibiotics that have been linked to increased antibacterial resistance in humans. They often cost 100 percent more than conventional products.

No need to go organic with these foods:

  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Papaya
  • Pineapples
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Onions
  • Peas

These fruits and vegetables generally do not contain pesticide residue.

Regarding cosmetics; having “organic” or “natural” in their names don’t necessarily mean they are safer. Only 11 percent of ingredients found in personal-care products, organic or not, have ever been screened for safety.

5. Managing the high cost of organic foods

Growing organic food is more labor-intensive and even though it is a growing industry, it doesn’t have the economies of scale or government subsidies available to conventional growers. So how do you save money buying organic food? Comparison shop in local grocery stores. Take advantage of local farmers’ markets: Many farmers do not charge a premium.

Hope the above is helpful to you as much it has been to me… I feel prepared for tomorrow’ discussion with my son at dinner time 🙂

Healthy eating xx

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