The other day someone I know shared a blog post listing all the reasons why eating organic is a con.
This made me angry, because there are lots of reasons why eating organic is beneficial for health. A common misconception is that because organic food doesn’t taste any different and doesn’t look any different, it’s a waste of money. I’m here to tell you that this is simply not true.
What does organic actually mean?
Organic food is prepared without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers, and other artificial chemicals. Organic means lower in pesticides, without artificial colours or preservatives, without routine use of antibiotics, and GM free (1). Soil association organic labelling also means that animal welfare is greater [Image 1]. Here’s what you need to know:
Image 1: Animal Welfare Labelling
Lower in pesticides
So why is it important to consume less pesticides? Pesticides are known endocrine disruptors (2). This means that they disrupt the body’s natural hormones, particularly oestrogens and androgens. They do this by binding to hormone receptor sites, either artificially mimicking hormone action, or blocking the natural hormones. They can also disrupt the removal of natural hormones, causing increased levels in the body (2). This means that if you suffer with a sex hormone related health issue, you are likely to benefit from reducing your pesticide exposure by going organic. There are many other concerns about the health impact of pesticides too, in particular dementia(3), cancer (4), and male fertility (5).
Without Routine Use of Antibiotics
This means that livestock can be given antibiotics as required, but the antibiotics must not be used routinely to prevent outbreaks(6). Many farms use antibiotics routinely as a preventative measure. However, this is a huge problem as overuse of antibiotics leads to resistance. This is not only a problem for livestock, but a massive problem to us too. By consuming animal products that contain antibiotics, we eventually become resistant to the drugs. This means antibiotics are becoming less effective and there are very few alternatives to treat certain conditions. For example, MRSA, known as a super-bug, is antibiotic resistant.
GM means genetically modified. Organic food will never be genetically modified. GM sounds great; it’s commonly believed that GM foods require less pesticides. Wrong. That isn’t how it works. GM produce is modified to be able to withstand more pesticides so that more pests can be killed off without also killing off the crop(7). GM foods are therefore higher in pesticides, in particular a pesticide known as glyphosate. You’ve most likely come across this labelled as Roundup. Yes, that’s a weed killer.
Glyphosate is sprayed onto wheat crops to kill the crop and make it easier to harvest. It is found in approximately two thirds of bread. Glyphosate is a carcinogen (cancer-causing) and there is no safe level in food(8). Glyphosate has also been shown to cause intestinal damage(9). Many people report that they cannot tolerate certain types of bread; glyphosate is one of the likely culprits.
Higher in Antioxidants
Research has shown that organic food is actually higher in antioxidants(10). Antioxidants are known as anti-cancer nutrients. It is theorised that plants release antioxidants when exposed to environmental stress, for example when attacked by pests. As non-organic produce is attacked much less due to pesticide use, they produce less antioxidants. It’s also thought that the high nitrogen content of some artificial fertilisers suppress antioxidant production in plants.
Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference!
Yes, buying organic is more expensive, because it’s more expensive to produce the food (less pesticides= more pests= less crops to sell). But you don’t have to go completely organic to reap the benefits. Pesticides are cumulative. The less pesticides you consume, the lesser the health impact. So, theoretically, if you reduce your exposure by 10%, you’ll have 10% reduced risk of the associated health concerns.
There is a great guide that is released every year called ‘The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen’. This is a list of foods that are considered either ‘clean’ where non-organic is fine, or ‘dirty’ where organic is essential (because they are particularly high in pesticides). This list is great if you are on a budget. Find it here.
This is not an exhaustive list of the benefits of organic eating, these are just the factors that I consider to be most important.
By Louise Digby , Registered Nutritional Therapist.
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- Mnif et al (2011). Effect of Endocrine Disruptor Pesticides: A Review: http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/8/6/2265/htm
- Zaganas et al (2013). Linking Pesticide Exposure and Dementia: What is the evidence? http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X13000322?via%3Dihub
- Uysal et al (2013). Pesticides and Cancer: The First Incidence Study Conducted in Turkey: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Deniz_Arslan6/publication/258850498_Pesticides_and_Cancer_The_First_Incidence_Study_Conducted_in_Turkey/links/54ee483c0cf25238f93a07a3.pdf
- Sungupta, P., & Banerjee, R., (2014). Environmental toxins: Alarming impacts of pesticides on male fertility. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Pallav_Sengupta2/publication/259353394_Environmental_toxins_Alarming_impacts_of_pesticides_on_male_fertility/links/57d370f908ae601b39a42d77.pdf
- Shin-Young, L., et al (2015). Antioxidant Activities and Quality Characteristics of Organic and Conventional Spinach (Spinacia oleracea). http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=SSMHB4_2015_v30n6_813