“Exercise and Eat Right” is simple advice, we have all heard, to help us move toward a healthier lifestyle. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has done a great job of developing guidelines for exercise. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been marketing daily food intake guidelines for years and has recently released the newest version, “MyPlate” . But, there is an undercurrent in the food market that promises the educated eater better health and yet confuses the mainstream grocery shopper. Why, for example, would anyone want to pay $4.65 for a carton of milk when another brand is on sale for $2.19? It might be time to consider some recent research and “Go Organic”!
What is the definition of “organic” foods. Check out the Wikipedia definition:
Organic foods are made in a way that complies with organic standards set by national governments and international organizations. In the United States, organic production is a system that is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 and regulations in Title 7, Part 205 of the Code of Federal Regulations to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
For the vast majority of human history, agriculture can be described as organic; only during the 20th century was a large supply of new synthetic chemicals introduced to the food supply. This more recent style of production is referred to as "conventional." Under organic production, the use of conventional non-organic pesticide (including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides) is precluded. However, contrary to popular belief, certain sprays and other materials that meet organic standards are allowed in the production of organic food.  If livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones. In most countries, organic produce may not be genetically modified. It has been suggested that the application of nanotechnology to food and agriculture is a further technology that needs to be excluded from certified organic food. The Soil Association (UK) has been the first organic certifier to implement a nano-exclusion.
After considering Wikipedia’s definition, who wouldn’t want to eat food that was free of hormones and pesticides? Necessity, affordability, and availability all play into the decision to choose organic food products over conventional foods.
Google “organic food” and you will be treated to numerous web sites with research and articles about the necessity of going organic. The website “organicfoodinfo.net” says that organic food is known to contain 50% more nutrients, minerals and vitamins than produce that has been intensively farmed. This website goes on to talk about the chemicals found in conventionally farmed vs. organically farmed fruits and vegetables and then also talks about the “cocktail of antibiotics and hormones that cattle and poultry are force fed” on conventional farms. Read for yourself about what happens to those chemicals when the animal is processed for human consumption. This website and others suggest that the chemicals are “Digested and stored in human bodies” which is linked to a whole host of disease afflicting humans. Some of the ones that top the list: cancer; obesity; Alzheimer's and some birth defects. Even more research about bovine growth hormones would certainly lead parents to avoid any milk treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), or artificial growth hormone rbST (Bovine somatrotropin) because this product (which the USDA estimates is found in 15% to 17% of all milk) is believed to accelerate growth and puberty in young men and women. This is a fairly recent invasion in our milk supply. It was not introduced until 1994 when Monsanto began producing it under the name Posilac. According to Wikipedia, the United States is the only developed nation to permit humans to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone. Posilac was banned from use in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all European Union countries (currently numbering 27), by 2000 or earlier.
The use of pesticides and hormones is linked to production. As a business, it makes sense that farmers would try to increase their yield and minimize loss. As long as it is “safe” it seems fair for those business owners to manage their resources. Organically produced products can have less yield and have costs associated with “certifying” that they are organic. Additionally, organic farms do not receive subsidies like conventional farms do which, again, drives up the cost. Therefore, they are more expensive. In a 2008 article, the New York Times estimated that organic food products cost 20% to 100% more than the conventional food items. That is especially hard to take in this economic market when conventional food costs have gone up. According to medicine.net and a nonprofit organization they cite, to maximize your food dollar you should go organic on the “dirty dozen”- produce that are most susceptible to pesticide residue:
Sweet bell peppers
That same web site says these 12 items are probably not worth the added expense because they have the least pesticide residues:
Sweet peas (frozen)
Sweet corn (frozen)
In terms of affordability, experts also say you can keep the cost of organic products down by:
• Shopping for sale items
• Buying locally grown products either at farmers' markets or via a co-op
• Buying products that advertise what they DON’T have in them but don’t say they are “certified organic”.
Big grocery chains are now producing and marketing their own brand of organics. This is a big bonus for the consumer because it is increasing the availability of organic products. Some big chains have entire aisles devoted to organic products while others mix their brand of organics right in with the conventional produced brands. A smart consumer will work two or three retailers into their shopping route in order to have the organic products available at the right price. Additionally, many Americans consume their major meals at fast food chains and/or sit down restaurants. That is a whole other realm. According to one health food website, what comprises an organic meal when eating out is far less comprehensive than what we would consider organic when cooking at home. In the home environment, not only can we choose all organic ingredients to make a meal, but we can also use purified water. Restaurants might have a few pieces of the organic puzzle like organic greens or grains, free-range (which is not necessarily organic) meats or dairy, but then choose to use tap water or cook with pesticide-laden ingredients. So, know that the only time you can actually be sure that food is organic is when you are the cook.
The more you peel back the layers of the organic products market the deeper you can get into how foods can affect our health. Deciding to “Go Organic” is a choice but it doesn’t have to be an absolute. Choosing organic products can improve your health and minimize exposure to harmful pesticides and hormones. But, you could make yourself crazy if you try to be a purist. Eating organic, whenever it is possible, and choosing to make an effort might be just the right recipe for your healthy lifestyle choices.
Angela Davies, B.A. is an AEA Trainer has been active in land and water fitness since the 80s. She works on many special projects including managing corporate fitness programs, teaching classes, and writing for fitness publications. Over the years, she received numerous trainings, awards and certifications. A mother of four, Davies lives in San Diego with her husband and two dogs.