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Nutrition Articles

Why Go Organic?

Healthy Body, Healthy Planet

A healthy diet requires more than simply cutting out junk food—it involves getting the most nutritional value out of every bite you take. It takes good food to build a fit body. But did you know that your food choices also have an impact on the environment? If you’d like both a healthy body and a healthy planet, consider going organic.

Definition of Organic
An organic product is raised, grown, and processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, antibiotics or hormones. Only farmers who produce food according to USDA organic standards and become certified by an independent third-party accredited agent can label their product as "certified organic" (with the exception of very small farms with sales under $5000 annually). The term "conventional" describes non-organic farming practices.

The Benefits of Organic Food
According to a 2001 study, today’s conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have about half the vitamin content of their 1963 counterparts. Organically grown food, however, is more nutritious than food produced using synthetic chemicals, as shown by a study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition in 1993. On average, organically grown food is 63 percent higher in calcium, 73 percent higher in iron and 118 percent higher in magnesium, while being 29 percent lower in mercury.

Besides potentially providing more nutrition per bite, organic food may also help you fight off disease. You may have heard of flavonoids, which plants produce in response to environmental stresses, such as competing plants or insects. Flavonoids have high levels of antioxidants, which serve as the plant’s natural defense and help us fight disease as well. Research suggests that pesticides and herbicides interfere with the production of these protective compounds.

According to the 2005 State of Science Review (SSR) by the Organic Center, antioxidant levels are about 30 percent higher in organic food than chemically-grown foods produced under the same conditions. Most antioxidants are found in the peels of fruits and vegetables, but many people cut away the peel of conventionally grown produce to reduce their exposure to pesticides. Since it is safer to eat the skin of an organic fruit or vegetable, you get the maximum amount of antioxidants from your produce when you buy organic.

Scientists now have a better understanding of how disease and environmental toxins are linked and have proven that exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides does impact our health. Some pesticides have been shown to disrupt the human endocrine system (which regulates our hormones), while others have been linked to breast cancer, uterine cancer and asthma.

The Importance of Healthy Soil
Farmers began using chemical fertilizers and pesticides around 50 years ago in order to boost crop yields. Over time, insects, weeds and plant diseases have developed resistance to these pesticides, which has prompted the development of stronger pesticides and the need for multiple applications during the growing cycle. Despite the tremendous increase in the use of pesticides since 1950, the percentage of crop volume lost to pests has remained about the same.

A study conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that 40 percent of the world’s agricultural soil is seriously depleted due to erosion (a result of planting the same crop over and over again), nutrient depletion (due to the use of chemical fertilizers) and salinization (the build-up of salt in the soil due to excessive irrigation).

The good news is that organic farming methods, such as rotating crops, using compost or manure instead of chemical fertilizers, and careful water use can reverse this damage and rebuild healthy soil.

7 Reasons to buy Organic
When it comes to your health—and the planet's—here are the top seven reasons why you might want to purchase organic foods whenever possible:
  1. Protect the health of children. Children are exposed to four times the level of pesticides in food than adults. Pesticides affect children more profoundly due to their higher metabolisms and smaller body mass.
  2. Look after your own health. Several pesticides that are banned in the U.S. and Canada are used on foreign crops and shipped here for consumers to buy.
  3. Safeguard the health of farm workers. Studies have shown that conventional farmers have six times the cancer risk of non-farmers. Because fertilizers and chemicals are often distributed by air, farm workers can be exposed to large quantities of chemicals without protection.
  4. Preserve the soil. Over three billion tons of topsoil are lost each year in the United States and Canada due to erosion caused by conventional farming methods.
  5. Protect the water. Pesticides are known to contaminate groundwater, which affects the drinking water supply in most of the United States and Canada. If pesticide-contaminated water reaches lakes, rivers and other bodies of water, it allows the rapid growth of algae and suffocates the natural aquatic plants and animals.
  6. Conserve resources. Conventional farming uses a vast amount of petroleum-based herbicides to kill weeds, while organic farming uses labor-intensive practices such as weeding by hand.
  7. Fight global warming. Petroleum-based fertilizers give plants the nitrogen they need for rapid growth, but these nitrogen compounds can enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
Thoroughly washing conventional produce and trimming away edible peels will help minimize any chemical residue while still retaining a high level of nutrients.  If organic foods don't fit into your budget or lifestyle, try not to worry. Most health authorities report that the health benefits that come from eating fruits and vegetables outweigh the concerns of pesticide use. Whether you select organic or conventionally grown produce, eating five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables each day is still the healthiest way to get the vitamins, minerals and fiber you need as a preventive health measure.

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Member Comments

  • good article. I try to buy organic or grow organically but the dollar price of organic produce can be a deterrent.
    Thanks for sharing
    The article has a lot of misinformation. More nutrients is one. That study was poorly done and many have come out to prove it wrong. It is the same nutrient wise. Organic doesn't mean safe. Many organic methods of farming are very bad for the consumer and the environment. It is just a fancy label to get more money from those willing to pay.
  • Make it affordable and I will buy it. ROFL........
  • Certain pesticides, like Sevin Dust, are more hazardous to the environment than the CO2 or Nitrogen, which is already abundant in our environment. Also, some fertilizer companies are already reducing the amount of Nitrogen in their composition because it evaporates very quickly. Are you aware that the earth's atmosphere is 78% Nitrogen making it the most abundant gas on our planet? Are you aware that CO2 is used by plants for photosynthesis!? Regardless, the best source to get the Nitrogen into the soil is by plant decomposition and tilling decaying plant material back into the earth. Additives and pesticides are very expensive and hurts the farmer's bottom line, so they actually use less than you think.

    Also, the actual volume usage of pesticides on organic farms is not recorded by the government? Yes, they do use pesticides! Rotenone is a common pesticide used in organic farms which attacks the mitochondria of cells and it has been linked to Parkinson Disease!

    Sevin Dust, as many other pesticides, is far more dangerous to our environment because it kills pollinating insects such as bees, and yet it is widely used by home owners. The bee population is quickly diminishing and in many cases, it is the home owners' fault!

    Rather than writing my own article in this comment section... let me just say that I prefer purchasing local produce. As for my garden, I prefer natural methods of gardening, making my own compost (adding things like egg shells are great for adding calcium to tomato plants), and using beneficial insects such as lady bugs.

    Always do your own research. I learned a lot from Virginia Tech Master Gardeners. Here is another place that you may want to start...

  • We here in north Queensland have the wonderful access to the Farmers Market where there is a lot of locally grown foods, we, here at home grow a lot of our own veggies, our family combined share what we grow so a lot of what I consume is fresh.
  • Great article. I am just goibg for health food to help me.
    If everyone ate only organic, there would not be enough land in the world to supply the food for them, think about the reality of that, people. Quit living a fantasy dream life. You are lucky many are eating fresh vegetables and fruits just the way they are. To supply all the people on earth with Organic food is ridiculous, stop the nagging about it.
  • Great article!!! I have three grandchildren and I have been told they have the opportunity to live well into their nineties and my littlest could hit 110 years old. I only hope that somehow miraculously there will be clean water, wholesome food and an environment to exercise in without face masks or oxygen hits. Eating organic is one great way to support reversal of our food systems and encourage moving in these directions. Keep healthy, eat well and always be grate-full!!!!
    I think the biggest reason to buy organic is to avoid genetically modified food, but that's just my 2 cents...
    I can't go to do grocery; but sometime my children brings organic foods and they don't know if organic foods. The best things is growing our own food.
    P.S. Check out the history of DDT if you want to get a good idea of our track record on "safety" in our food supply. There are old commercials for DDT that show children being sprayed to demonstrate how harmless it is, and now we know that it is extremely harmful to the environment. Just use common sense! If it stinks and gives you a migraine, don't spray it on something you are going to eat (and for God sakes, don't spray the kids!).
    This is a response to NWORKENTINE (see below). Your comment left me uneasy for many reasons, one of them being that this website is viewed by so many people looking for good information on what they should be eating. I have a degree in environmental science and I have been growing my own produce in my garden since I was about ten or so. Knowing my background, of course you will say, "Well, she's just a treehugger supporting expensive farming methods that benefit no one!" The truth is that if you take a supermarket tomato that has been flown from who knows which country and compare it to a sun-ripened tomato that has just been picked from your organic vegetable garden, you will undoubtedly find that the organic one tastes 100% better than the supermarket tomato. Scientists have studied lycopene and other phytochemicals and most reputable ones have come to the conclusion that we don't know as much about whole foods as we thought we knew. There are so many other important phytochemicals that we have not even touched, and you are basically saying that the soil our food grows in does not matter??? I say it does. Organic farming is good for everyone; I really don't see how you can possibly support your argument. I am not trying to start a fight; I am just curious to see where you get your information.
  • It's all about petro chemicals versus a healthy, organic, natural soil. It's your choice. Choose cancer or live cancer-free. Looks to me like cancer rates have shot sky-high since farmers started using chemical fertilizers. We were far better off in the 1950s when small farmers grew their own crops for their neighbors, when their chickens ran free in the yard, and without all those chemicals leeching all the nutrients out of the soil. The taste of organic beef is highly superior to that of antibiotic-laced meat.

About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.