IS ORGANIC FOOD HEALTHIER?
Most people would agree that, if your food – the primary source of nutrients used to fuel your body – is loaded with toxic chemicals and pollutants, it is probably going to have a detrimental effect on your health over the long-term.
This is one of the main reasons why organically produced food and other products have seen such a rise in popularity in recent years, as more and more people have started to take an interest in the quality, purity and nutritional content of their diet.
But the burning question that so many people ask is, is organic food actually healthier than food that is produced using non-organic methods. Decide for yourself…
The problem with pesticides
You might be surprised to discover that, unless you eat only organic food, 1 in 3 of all the foods you eat on a daily basis contains traces of pesticides.
This might not sound like too much of a problem, but it soon mounts up. For example, the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by the average person in a year has the equivalent of up to 1 gallon of pesticides sprayed on it!
In the UK alone, more than 25 tonnes of pesticides are applied to crops each year. While our country’s regulation in this area is stricter than those of, for example, many exporting developing countries, many of the compounds found in the organophosphates that are used are known to be carcinogenic (substances directly involved in causing cancer).
They have also been linked to health conditions such as birth defects, decreased fertility, depression, memory decline, aggression, Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, asthma and migraines, and shown to be toxic to the brain and nervous system.
And organophosphates are the preferred alternative for safer pesticides! The first family of pesticides were organochlorines, but these proved so toxic and non-biodegradable that most have been banned from Europe. However, if you are purchasing foods (or, for example, coffee beans) imported from countries outside the EU, you may still be exposed.
While pesticides are toxic on an individual basis, studies have shown that they could be hundreds of times more harmful in combination. During any meal, you of course eat a number of different foods, each potentially treated with a different pesticide. This can add up to a rather nasty cocktail of harmful residues, the precise effects of which remain unknown.
Having said that, those with an already high toxic load (and therefore poor detox function), the elderly, the young and those suffering from high stress levels are all particularly vulnerable to the toxicity posed by pesticides. Even a healthy adult can be detrimentally affected in the long term.
Unfortunately, simply washing your food has little effect. Many pesticide residues become embedded in the tissues of the produce (for instance, the skin of apples), plus many pesticides are specially formulated to resist being washed off by the rain.
So, before you even start to think about the nutritional content of your food, you might want to choose organic foods as often as you can, for the simple reason that they can help to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals.
The health concerns relating to the contamination of our food chain with countless man-made chemicals is a relatively new development in the history of the human diet. In fact, only in the twentieth century did this become a real issue.
Before the dawn of modern agricultural methods and food processing, organic unadulterated whole foods naturally formed the basis of everyone’s diet. Unfortunately, going organic is now the closest we can get to eating this kind of pure food today.
And it’s not just about the toxicity caused by pesticides; it’s about the energy toll that processing these harmful chemicals can take on your body.
Ideally, we should all be eating foods that provide the precise amount of energy we need to keep our bodies in perfect balance. However, this is made more difficult when our food is contaminated, as we have to expend a great deal of energy in just “disarming” the toxins. What’s more, our system is not always 100% effective at this and, as a result, the toxins can accumulate in body tissue over time.
Ultimately, eating organic raw food is the most natural way to take food into your body. Your body systems (like your digestive tract and liver) recognise the natural, unadulterated substances they are about to process and are therefore better able to absorb and utilise the nutrients, without any additional strain or interference caused by substances that are alien to them.
A predominantly organic diet is therefore arguably the most efficient, as well as the most beneficial, for health. The raw form of the food is important for two main reasons:
1. natural foods tend to contain beneficial enzymes which aid their digestion
2. natural foods tend to be rich in a broad spectrum of vital phytonutrients (such as antioxidants).
Unfortunately, the cooking process can destroy enzymes and significantly reduce the activity of phytonutrients.
So try to eat organic produce as much as you can, aiming for a diet that comprises of at least 50% raw fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
And finally, when thinking about whether organic food is truly healthier, you can’t ignore a nutritional comparison.
At the end of the day, produce is only as good as the food that is given to it (in the case of meat) or the soil in which it is grown (in the case of plants, fruit and vegetables) – just as we are what we eat.
Looking at plants in particular, minerals pass from the soil to the plant and, in turn, help the plant to grow and produce vitamins. Unfortunately, farms that rely heavily on artificial fertilisers and pesticides end up robbing their soil of nutrients (which are never replaced).
This is because phosphates found in those chemicals bind to the minerals in the soil and make them less available to the plant. This in turn results in a lower yield of vitamins, potentially leaving our diets deficient.
For this reason, along with other modern factors such as long-distance transportation and long-term storage, there is a staggering range of nutrient content in fruit and vegetables. For example, an orange may provide anywhere from 180mg to 0mg of vitamin C. The average is usually around 60mg, but the sad fact is that some supermarket oranges may contain no vitamin C at all!
So, while you want to pack your daily diet with fruit and veg, quality really is just as important as quantity. Organic food, because of the way it is produced, coupled with the fact that it is also often more local and seasonal, tends to contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other important nutrients.