On the opposite side of the spectrum you probably have an Uncle Garth somewhere in your family tree…
Garth may be morbidly obese, have high blood pressure, and may have even lost a toe due to diabetic complications last week; but he’ll be damned if you pry the hotdogs and Pabst Blue Ribbon from his meaty paws and replace it with one of those grass-fed “hippy” steaks and glass of organic Cabernet.
For some reason people take an absurdly hard line on the organic food subject.
One can only assume it’s the standard rationale… the less people know about a subject the more passionate they are about pretending that they do.
Luckily you have this post so you’ll no longer have to pretend. Let’s dive in…
So, what is organic food?
Defining organic food is simple.
“Organic” refers to any food produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or any other artificial additives.
An interesting aside is that the regulations for organic certification are subject to change, so what might be organic today wasn’t 5 years ago and may not be next year. If that matters to you, it’s worth checking for changes in regulations every few months.
Is there evidence that organic food is healthier for you than conventional food?
Determining the health benefits of organic food consumption, if there are any, is a bit complex.
To start, let’s examine some of the nutritional differences between “conventional” and “organic” foods.
It appears that organic production provides dairy and beef products with a greater ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. In several studies comparing grass-fed and conventional dairy and beef products, the grass fed products displayed significantly higher concentrations of omega-3 fats. Evidence strongly suggests that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids improve cardiovascular health and chronic inflammation.
Many individuals turn to supplementing with fish oil as a means of getting omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Fatty cold-water fish are known as a prime source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, grass-fed beef and dairy appear to also provide significant amounts of omega-3’s. It stands to reason that their inclusion in the diet could have cardio-protective effects.
Beef for heart health, one can almost hear the cries afoul of low-fat dieters carried far upon a midsummer night’s breeze…
As far as nutritional content in conventionally vs. organically produced produce, there is little evidence to suggest that organic food exhibits higher nutritional value in terms of vitamin and mineral content.
It is worth noting that there are some studies that do suggest exceptional benefits to organic production. However, fundamental flaws like not maintaining the same growing season, climate, strains of fruit/vegetable compared, etc. make these studies impossible to cite as credible.
I was able to find a few very well conducted studies that could be viewed as legitimate evidence.
(Talk about disappointing, 3 studies worth citing after reviewing for over 10 hours… it’s times like these one wonders if they could fashion an intravenous caffeine drip.)
A comparison of tomatoes produced in the exact same conditions over a two year period showed “no significant differences between organic and conventional farming systems for all tomato fruit parameters measured, including content of bioactive compounds with antioxidant activity, and antioxidant activity.”
A second study examining apples displayed that “the production method had a smaller impact on the variation in the polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity of apples than the yearly climate.” Not exactly a striking endorsement of choosing organic…
Finally, a comparison of eggplants grown in the same conditions over a two-year period demonstrated marginally higher potassium, calcium and magnesium levels. Marginally higher being 25mg/100 g of potassium, 2.4 mg/100g of calcium and 1.4 mg/g of magnesium.
To put this in perspective, that’s under 5% of your recommended daily value of each for slightly less than a cup of eggplant. To really make a difference you’d have to consume a borderline inhuman amount of eggplant, at which point we can only assume you’d look like this…
It is worth mentioning that in the all studies noted here organically produced fruits did show a slightly greater vitamin and mineral content. Take this for what you will… the difference is miniscule.
So, what’s all the hype?
What stands out is the comparisons in levels of pesticide contamination for organic vs. nonorganic foods. This is really common sense when you look at it… foods sprayed with pesticides would contain them and ones that are not would generally be free of them.
In a German analysis of pesticide contamination in produce, 60% of produce sampled showed pesticide contamination from 1 or more sources.
Pesticide exposure is associated with, but has not been directly proven to, increase the risk of some cancers, Parkinson’s disease and reproductive dysfunctions. Correlation does not equal causation, mind you.
Is the pesticide contamination in conventional produce dangerous?
Possibly, but after an extensive search I was unable to find anything to prove it’s danger or safety absolutely.
Despite what some may have you believe… there is no concrete evidence that eating foods containing trace amounts of pesticides is comparable to building the family vacation home in the shadow of Chernobyl.
Nonetheless, it’s safe to say we as consumers should demand further testing on this subject.
* The nutritional content of fruits/vegetables appears to be more greatly influenced by factors such as genetics and climate than organic or conventional farming.
* Eating organic the majority of the time would theoretically add up to higher vitamin and mineral intakes than a diet consisting of conventionally grown foods.
* Supplementation of omega 3’s and a multivitamin could provide similar intake levels as compared to eating a diet of organically produced foods.
* From a fat, carbs, and protein standpoint, there is little to no research showing a significant difference in the total amounts of these macronutrients in organic vs. conventionally produced food.
*Conventionally produced foods do undoubtedly show prevalent pesticide contamination
The purpose of this review was not to convince you to eat or not to eat organic foods, it was simply to provide you with the relevant information available to us thus far so that you can make educated decisions about your health rather than go on whatever oversimplifications are presented in advertising, media, etc.
There are many environmental and sociological arguments for organic farming that I chose not to go into here but we will discuss in the future.
I hope that you found the information useful. If you have questions, feel free to post them below. If you enjoyed this post, do me a favor and hit share below…