Posts made in September, 2013

Organic Foods vs. Conventional Foods – does it matter?

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in News | 0 comments

As consumers become more aware of nutrition and wellness, organic foods industry has grown significantly in the last decade. Now, most grocery chains and supermarkets carry organic foods in their produce aisles along with the conventional foods. Regardless of where you shop, organic foods are more expensive and it may not be within a family’s budget. You may wonder whether organic foods are truly better and safer than the conventional foods. Do you really need to shop for organic foods if you want healthy, balanced meals? Do you need to feed your children organic foods to meet their nutritional needs? Let’s try to answer these common questions by looking at research studies done on organic foods in this article.

First, it is important to understand the difference between organic foods and conventional foods. Keep in mind that the word “organic” only refers to the way foods are grown and nothing about the nutritional values. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. For instance, organic farmers use natural fertilizers such as manure, compost and worm castings. They use insects and birds for pest control and they rotate crops to improve the soil. Organic farmers raise animals in outdoor setting and they refrain from using growth hormone. Livestock animals are not given antibiotics but instead they are kept in a cleaner environment. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a product must be 95 percent organically produced in order to label it as “organic” and use USDA organic seal. For products that are produced at least 70 percent organically, they can say “made with organic ingredients”. For products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients, producers can list organic ingredients but they cannot claim it as organic product. Nevertheless, conventional foods are also monitored by U.S government and they have to meet safety standard.

A group of researchers from Stanford University decided to look into studies done on organic foods to determine if organic foods are superior in terms of nutrition. They found that most studies were done on fruits and vegetables, and no scientific evidences indicating organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods. Organic foods may contain somewhat higher amount of antioxidant and higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in organic poultry and dairy products. Yet, there are no detectable health benefits compared to conventional foods currently. Furthermore, when it comes to foodborne illnesses, organic foods are susceptible to contamination as much as conventional foods. Also, organic foods are not free of natural toxins but in general they do not cause harm.

Most of us are concerned about pesticides in foods and infants and young children are more vulnerable from potential effects from it. Again, USDA and other government agencies have regulations on pesticide use in farming. Researchers found higher level of pesticide residues in urine of children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) but whether it causes ADHD is unclear at this time. Studies also showed that pesticide level in the urine fell when children are switched to organic foods. Pesticide residue in both organic and conventional foods can be reduced by washing and peeling fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Unfortunately, pesticides can be absorbed into some conventional fruits and vegetables during the growing process. Check out the following link to the “2013 Dirty Dozen Plus” list ranked by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that you should consider buying organic: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php.

While organic farming is more environmentally friendly, organic and conventionally foods may provide the same nutritional values. As long as you eat a variety of foods and consume in moderate amount, health benefits are generally the same whether you shop organic or conventional products. It is more important for you to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and pasteurized dairy products than buying everything organic. Consider buying from local farmers since nutrient values in produce are harvested at their peak ripeness and referring to the EWG’s annual dirty dozen plus list. Remember as a general rule, you can reduce pesticide residues and protect yourself from foodborne illnesses if you adapt basic safety measures when handling and cooking foods.

Contributed by Patricia Hsiao M.D.
Sources: Annals.org, UpToDate.gov, Jwatch.org
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