Benefits of organic foods
Are organic foods healthier than conventionally grown foods?
Significantly lower pesticide residue, combined with
average nutritional value, seem to make the answer easy. What
are the most recent news?
A ten-year study published in the Journal of Agricultural
and Food Chemistry focused on two of the flavonoids -
quercetin and kaempferol - in tomatoes. It found out that
organic tomatoes have on the average
79% and 97% higher
content of these two phytochemicals, respectively. Researchers
believe it is due to the abundance of nitrogen in conventional
fertilizers, as opposed to better
mineral balance and
availability in the soil of organically grown foods (BBC).
It is just another in a long series of studies, spanning over
more than two decades, reaffirming nutritional superiority of
organic foods. It is no surprise, since in organic farming fertility of the soil is maintained with nutrient-rich
composts and manure, and by periodic crop rotations.
On the other hand, conventional agriculture
in the soil mainly inorganic fertilizers containing the three
main plant nutrients needed for plant growth - nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium;
increasingly depleted from most other
of them essential to our health.
While organic foods should have better
nutrient content in general, the real world is more complicated,
with significant variations in produce types, soil quality,
climate, and growing methods. Some conventional farmers also use
composts and/or manure, at least to some extent. On the other
hand, not all "organic" labeled produce live up to their high
standards. Some may not actually be organic - so make sure that
those you buy are certified.
This is probably the main reason why some studies
in the past have come up
with contradicting results. There is a number of important
factors, and it may be difficult to control all of them.
However, in the long run, it seems safe to say that consuming certified organic produce will provide
higher amounts of all nutrients,
Add to it another important health benefit of organic foods:
their residual pesticide
level is a
small fraction of
pesticides contaminating foods
produced in conventional
While the official sources (EPA) maintain that residual
pesticide levels in conventionally grown produce are, in
general, harmless, it is to be taken with a grain of salt. It is
no secret that their objectivity is being compromised by
the "higher" (read: economic) interests. EPA's flexibility and
generosity in both, establishing tolerance levels for toxic
contamination, and still allowing produce far outside those
standards to be brought to the market, is rather common.
What these residual pesticide levels can do to you? Well, if
you are male, one thing it can do to you is lower your
fertility. In 2002, researchers at the University of
Missouri-Columbia run into unexpected result: sperm count and
virility of men in rural Missouri areas was lower than that of
men in large cities (Minneapolis, New York). In 2003, the cause
became apparent: men with poor semen quality had significantly
higher pesticide exposure (Geographic Differences in Semen
Quality of Fertile U.S. Males, Swan et al., 2002).
The reason pesticides have such effect is that
pesticides mimic estrogen,
effectively suppressing male hormones.
If you are a female,
the same effect generally promotes cancerous growth,
Since only about 2% of total pesticides used ends up on the produce, there is
a plenty left to contaminate soil and waters, penetrating into
the food chain in rural areas. Conventional water treatments are
ineffective in removing many of these toxins from
water, so you are practically on your own.
While this implies
that pesticide food residue is not necessarily the worst source
of pesticide exposure, it is not to be taken lightly. Long-term
effects of what are officially "safe exposure levels" are yet to
be determined, and the picture is not likely to be rosy. Most
pesticides work by blocking cellular
their accumulation invites trouble. Being estrogen-mimics, many
also increase your already excessive exposure to endocrine
disruptors (i.e. hormonally active chemicals), coming from plasticizers
(phthalates), detergents, TCE
(trichloroethylene), PCBs from industrial and auto exhaust,
heavy metals like
On top of that, harmful effects of pesticide
many times when combined with
hundreds of other
toxins contaminating your body.
How the body handles this extra estrogen load
depends on many factors you may, and may not be able to control.
However, a healthy diet always helps. For instance, phytochemicals from cruciferous vegetable family (broccoli,
Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, etc.)
prevent it from being metabolized to "bad estrogen", the
carcinogenic 16-hydrolase form10.
But you don't really want any extra enzyme killer, nor potential
carcinogens inside your body. This is even more true for children and people
whose health is already compromised - they are much more
vulnerable. Besides, too much of the "good estrogen" is still
bad; it can cause infertility, impotence, gender confusion,
impaired growth and mental function (children),
hypothyroidism that doesn't show on the standard test10,
and so on.
The unquestionable benefit of eating
true organic foods is cutting
your food pesticide
exposure - and all the health risk it presents - down to the
possible minimum. Added bonus of eating organic, overall, is that your
body is getting
significantly higher influx of nutrients - the single most powerful
disease prevention and health restoration factor there is.
┆ NUTRITION ┆