By Dr. Margaret Walsh
The word “organic” seems to have become very popular in recent times. What does “organic” actually mean, and why should you care about eating organic foods?
The USDA National Organic Program defines “organic” as follows:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.
From a health perspective, eating organic foods is very beneficial. When you consume organic foods, you are avoiding a huge source of toxic exposure, in the form of pesticides and other chemical residues found on produce. Pesticides and other chemicals found on conventionally grown produce are absorbed into your body as you digest a meal with non-organic ingredients. In your body, these chemicals can produce an array of symptoms, including neurological problems, immune system problems, endocrine problems, and increase your risk of developing cancer. Studies have shown that almost all people have hundreds of detectable chemicals in their blood. Also, it has been shown that mothers can pass these chemicals to their infants in utero. Avoidance of chemicals on non-organic food and other sources of chemical exposure (occupational, environmental, in your home, etc), is the best way to reduce the toxic burden on your body, and decrease your risk for developing symptoms.
As a helpful guide, the Environmental Working Group created a list of produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue (“The Dirty Dozen”). If you are unable to buy all organic foods, the following list can help you prioritize the produce that is best to buy in the organic form.
12 most contaminated foods (“The Dirty Dozen”):
- Bell peppers
- Cherries (from US)
- Cantaloupe (from Mexico)
- Green Beans
- Grapes (from Chile)
12 Least contaminated foods:
- Sweet corn (frozen)
- Sweet peas (frozen)
In addition to organic produce, it is important to eat organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, because they are not given antibiotics and hormones. The best beef to buy is called organic grass fed/grass finished meat (the animal consumes grass as a food source throughout its entire life). This type of beef has healthy types of fats (similar to wild Alaskan salmon), which are much better than the saturated fat found in conventional beef.
Check out some great websites with more information about organic foods: