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Nutrition

Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

Is Organic Food Better for You?

While it might seem like organic foods cost more -and they often do-there are a few key reasons. These cost reasons are the same reasons that it's most likely a good idea to choose the organic version of some foods vs. other foods, because they may be better for you.

Is Organic Food Better for You?


If organic foods were priced the same -and looked the same on the shelves-as non-organic food items, then choosing organic foods would be quite easy. No more standing and comparing, or taste-testing to see if the organic apples really taste different than non-organic ones. When it comes to the budget, for goodness sake those organic apples better taste 3 times better than normal ones--because they can cost triple what non-organic apples cost!

While it might seem like organic foods cost more -and they often do-there are a few key reasons. These cost reasons are the same reasons that it's most likely a good idea to choose the organic version of some foods vs. other foods, because they may be better for you.

First of all, there are a few different definitions of 'organic' depending on whether you are talking about crops, livestock, or even wine.

Produce:

If you see a USDA organic certified seal, then you can rest assured that the food has not been irradiated, and no synthetic fertilizers or prohibited pesticides were used. For a list of prohibited pesticides, click here: [http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5088987]. "Organic" also means that these crops (or the seeds used to grow them) were not used in the production of that food. Another comforting fact about organic food-sewage sludge is not allowed on farms producing organic crops.

Meat:

When you see the USDA organic seal on a meat or dairy product, it means that the farmers who produced that product met certain standards for the animals' health and welfare. This seal also indicates that the farmers did not use antibiotics or growth hormones on the animal. Also very important, if the seal on meat products says "organic", this means that the animals were fed 100% organic feed and provided access outdoors. While there may still be room for improvement, the organic seal ensures consumers that the farmers are using the some of the best practices for producing meat products.

So is organic food better for you?

Well, when you consider that you are skipping loads of hormone-disrupting chemicals, and skipping sewage sludge and growth hormones - it's a safe bet that organic foods is most likely better for you. However, it is more important to choose certain organic foods over others.

According to the Environmental Working Group, choosing specific foods with the "organic" label can decrease your toxin intake by as much as 80%. If you haven't heard about "The Clean 15" and "The Dirty Dozen" yet, this group made it easy to determine to buy organic and when it's not necessary.

The fruits and veggies on the dirty dozen list tested positive for anywhere between 47-67 different chemicals, even after they were washed and peeled. The 'dirty' foods that you should try to choose the organic version include:

These foods are better for you when they are organic.

Celery
Peaches
Strawberries
Apples
Domestic blueberries
Nectarines
Sweet bell peppers
Spinach, kale, and collard greens
Cherries
Potatoes
Imported grapes
Lettuce

When you are browsing around the grocery store and see the following foods labeled "organic", then you cold most likely keep walking, as these fifteen foods were found "clean" already, even though they are not certified organic. This is related to the lack of pesticide use, making these foods safe to consume as non-organic.

These foods can be purchased "non-organic", because they contain little-to-no pesticide residues.

Onions
Avocados
Sweet corn
Pineapple
Mango
Sweet peas
Asparagus
Kiwi fruit
Cabbage
Eggplant
Cantaloupe
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Sweet potatoes
Sweet onions

According to the Environmental Working Group, the reason some produce contains more pesticides is because some have a hardy outer layer that serves as a protection defense. For example, an avocado contains a tough outer skin, while berries on the other hand do not. For the full list of products in order of most to least pesticide residue, click here: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php

Pesticides to Avoid for Better Health

Some examples of pesticides that are known to be harmful to human health include difenoconazole which influences thyroid hormone and increased markers of oxidative stress in rats, and fungicides hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and pentachlorobenzene (PCB), which have been shown to disrupt hormonal and placental function. None of these are allowed in food labeled 'organic', which we know makes organic food better for you.

Luckily, when organic food is imported into the US from other countries, it must meet certain standards. These include certified organic USDA standards, or an authorized international standard, such as the Canada Organic Product Regulation, as well as the European Union organic standards, and Japanese Agricultural Standards.

If you are concerned that someone is selling a product as "organic" while they are not meeting the USDA standards, you can submit a complaint to the USDA by emailing NOPCompliance@ams.usda.gov or Call the National Organic Program, 202-720-3252.

References:
USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service: National Organic Program Website

Gregoraszczuk EL, Ptak A, Karpeta A, Fiedor E, Wróbel A, Milewicz T, Falandysz J. Hexachlorobenzene and pentachlorobenzene accumulation, metabolism and effect on steroid secretion and on CYP11A1 and CYP19 expression in cultured human placental tissue. Reprod Toxicol. 2014 Jan;43:102-10. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2013.12.004. Epub 2013 Dec 21. PMID: 24365113

Abd-Alrahman SH, Elhalwagy ME, Kotb GA, Farid H, Farag AA. Exposure to difenoconazole, diclofop-methyl alone and combination alters oxidative stress and biochemical parameters in albino rats. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2014 Oct 15;7(10):3637-46. eCollection 2014. PMID: 25419412

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