Organic = Healthier?

USDA.organic

There have been countless times I have heard people talking about organic foods…and buying organic foods…and eating organic foods. The term “organic” appears to turn any food into an automatic “superfood” – it’s immediately perceived as healthier for consumption. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. It is true that organically-grown foods are not GMOs, and are not subjected to synthetic chemicals; however, that doesn’t make the food healthier, in terms of nutrient density or other benefits.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA, 2012). Contrary to the popular belief, this does not mean that organic foods are more nutrient-dense, or are healthier, than non-organic foods. It does mean that organically-grown foods are not exposed to synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and they will not have any artificial additives (color, flavor, preservatives, etc.). Additionally, organic meat would have lived in a habitat supporting normal behavior; in other words, the animal would have been allowed to run around, graze, and be free of small, confining cages. Organic meat, as could be assumed, is “fed 100% organic feed […] and not administered antibiotics or hormones” (USDA, 2012).

As for the belief that organic foods have superfood-like benefits…well, that’s not true… There was a study done by individuals at Stanford University which gave rise to the fact that organic foods and conventional foods (a.k.a. “non-organic”) are the same, in regard to health benefits and food safety. Though there are many who claim that the exposure to pesticides from conventional foods can cause adverse health issues, such as antibiotic resistance, most of the studies testing these substances used rats as their test subjects. From my perspective, there are multiple issues with the information from these studies, but these are the two biggest problems: 1) Rats do not have the same body composition as humans do; hence, their metabolic processes are different, and they could develop adverse reactions to substances while we would have little to no reaction to the same substance. 2) The doses of pesticides administered to the rats are highly purified – in the “real world” environment, there is no possible way that we could consume a purified dose of a pesticide.

Ultimately, the choice is yours; as the consumer, you have the freedom to buy and eat whatever you like. If you have an ongoing concern about synthetic pesticides and animal cruelty, then – by all means – choose the organic foods. But, if your choice between going organic or getting the non-organic food is solely based on the level of nutrition or health benefits that each provides, then you really don’t have to swear by the USDA-certified label. The conventional foods are just as good!

My main resource:  USDA. (2012). Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. Retrieved from http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-the-usda-organic-label-means/

An article about that Stanford study I mentioned: http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/09/little-evidence-of-health-benefits-from-organic-foods-study-finds.html

Another resource to further your learning experience: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880

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