There is no denying the fact that buying food is expensive, and prices seem to rise every time we go to the checkout. Fresh fruits, vegetables and meat products are all a significant strain on a family’s weekly budget, especially when we are trying to opt for the healthiest and freshest options available. Its all too easy to go for the cheap, processed food instead of fresh, whole foods. So at a time when our budgets are stretched like never before, the question is: should you pay even more for organic food, or is the added expense just a waste of money?
We often think that buying organic foods, especially when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables, means we are eating healthier, more nutritious foods. The reality is that there have been conflicting research studies over the past few years into the value of organic food. But a recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition – one of the world’s most respected academic journals focusing on food nutrition – should settle this question once and for all.
More Antioxidants, Fewer Pesticides
Researchers examined more than 300 peer-reviewed studies conducted across the world. The results from the researchers, who were based in both Europe and North America, concluded that organic produce contained a higher level of antioxidants than foods that were not grown in an organic environment.
The researchers also discovered, naturally, that there were significantly lower levels of pesticides and other chemicals in foods labeled as organic. Charles Benbrook, one of the leading researchers working with the BJN, said that the research his team conducted had proved that there were fundamental benefits to eating organic produce, both nutritionally and in terms of public safety.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should go spend your entire food budget on organic produce. Even the scientists involved in the research stressed the point that if the choice is between eating more fruits and vegetables, or eating organic produce, the public should opt for the former. Mr. Benbrook suggested those families who can afford organic produce will be able to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals, but other families should aim to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables in general.
Organic food in the United States must be grown using natural pesticides, and cannot contain any hormones, antibiotics, non-natural fertilizers, or be involved in any genetic engineering projects. One theory is that the reduced use of chemicals means that the plants themselves produce more nutrients, as a method of defending themselves against the predators who threaten them.
The idea that organic produce is healthier is not a new revelation to the scientific community at large. In another recent example, researchers at Washington State University found that strawberries grown in organic conditions contained significantly higher levels of Vitamin C than those grown using non-natural pesticides.
The flipside is that organic food is not perfect, and probably never will be. It is estimated that up to a quarter of produce labeled as organic has actually been cross-contaminated with non-organic pesticides, either during the process of labeling and packing or by soil contamination on the farms. Also be aware that the ‘natural’ pesticides often used by organic farmers can be fairly toxic themselves, although never to the same degree as regular pesticides.
Non-organic farmers have also defended the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in the growth of conventional produce, arguing that they are meeting a demand for low-cost fruits and vegetables and that their methods are not having an adverse effect on public health.
Carl Winter is a pesticides researcher at the University of California, Davis, and he has argued that, “Our typical exposure to pesticide residues is at levels 10,000 to 10,000,000 times lower than doses that cause no observable effect in laboratory animals that are fed pesticides daily throughout their entire lifetimes.” Is this true? Possibly, but you should also know that UC Davis receives large research grants from Monsanto, the producer of Roundup and other pesticides.
There is certainly research to suggest that the pesticides used in manufacture of non-organic produce can be linked to a rise in some chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as some types of cancer. In addition, the organic produce studied by the BJN demonstrated a 48% reduced level of the toxic metal cadmium, which the United States Department of Labor heavily regulates exposure to in the workplace.
Is Organic Food Worth It?
Personally, I buy organic produce wherever possible. I do this because of the reduced quantity of toxic pesticides, and the health benefits from the improved nutritional content. Where possible, I would recommend anyone suffering from adrenal fatigue (or any other chronic condition) to do the same. Our immune systems can only benefit from more concentrated nutrients and fewer pesticides.
However, I do understand that the cost is increasingly an issue for many families. The question of whether to pay more for organic produce is one for each individual family to decide. If you can’t buy organic food, then I would recommend to at least buy local produce. When produce is shipped large distances it loses much of its nutritional value. So head down to your local farmer’s market, get to know the farmers, and get the freshest foods that you can find.
Also know that not every organic food may be worth the extra expense. Foods like banana and avocado don’t retain the same level of pesticides as foods like grapes, because when we eat them we remove the outer peel. For more information on which foods are likely to have the highest pesticide levels, check out the list provided by the Environmental Working Group. The higher a food is in the list, the more pesticides it is likely to be carrying. As you can see, apples are #1!