Five big reasons to go organic

Posted by
April 10, 2012

Linda Bonvie –, April 10, 2012
It wasn’t all that long ago that organic products were available only in natural-food stores or were limited to a few select items carried by a smattering of supermarkets. Within the past few years there has been a phenomenal upsurge in the marketing of all types of organic commodities, ranging from produce to dairy products to cookies to canned and processed foods. And lots of big-name food companies have jumped on the organic bandwagon.

With more news hitting the fan daily about nasty and gross things found in conventional foods, from arsenic in chicken to “pink slime” in ground beef to residues of pesticides that are considered endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can cause adverse developmental, reproductive and neurological effects), it’s pretty clear why more folks are going organic. If you haven’t yet started swapping out “conventional” products and produce for organic ones, here are five big reasons we think you should.

1. Organic foods contain NO high fructose corn syrup!
Imagine the joy of shopping without having to scrutinize every label for the ubiquitous ingredient high fructose corn syrup. Like a blast from the past – by buying organic – this is one thing you won’t have to worry about. Conventional items,such as ketchup, mustard, salad dressings and bread, all typically contain this test-tube sweetener, organic varieties don’t. Case closed.

2. Organic farmers don’t raise chickens on a diet of caffeine and drugs
The idea of chicken being a “healthier” alternative to meat lost some of its credibility with two new studies out from researchers at Johns Hopkins and Arizona State University that looked at feather meal, a byproduct of the poultry industry used as animal feed and fertilizer, that turned up some nasty things being fed to chickens.

What researchers found suggests that chickens are fed over-the-counter drugs, such as Tylenol and Benadryl, caffeine, antibiotics, some of which have been banned, and arsenic. Keeve E. Nachman, co-author of the two reports is quoted as saying about the results, “It’s unbelievable what we found.”

If you want to take Tylenol and caffeine knowingly, and not as an unlabeled extra with a chicken dinner, choose organic poultry which is now widely available in most major supermarkets.

3. Organic fruits and vegetables contain an average of 30 percent more antioxidants
Finding it hard to get those five servings of fruits and vegetables in every day? Better start replanning your menu, as the recommendation’s been increased to nine servings! All the more reason to pick organic in the produce aisle or at your local farmers market.

Organically grown fruits and vegetables contain significantly more antioxidants per serving. This increased density means you’re getting a bigger bang for your buck – or snack. One reason for the higher nutritional quality of organic foods comes from lower yields. It seems that plants only have so much energy to keep them going. Chemical enhancements that force bigger and faster-growing crops sidetrack energy from other plant functions, essentially diverting them from generating the full potential of health-promoting compounds that come naturally.

4. Organic diets can make a big difference in a short time
To see how much of a difference switching your kids to an organic diet can make, look no further than a 2008 study of 23 children by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The kids studied, ranging in age from 3 to 11, all of whom had been raised exclusively on non-organic, conventional diets, were switched to an all-organic diet for just five days. The researchers found that swapping organic fresh fruits and vegetables for conventionally-grown ones reduced median concentrations of both malathion and chlorpyrifos, two nasty organophosphate pesticides (detected in urine), to non-detectable levels, or amounts close to being non-detectible. The researchers concluded that eating non-organic food was the major source of exposure that young children have to these pesticides.

5. Organic fruits and vegetables are safer to consume
Sure, everything we do has a risk factor. But its great when simple actions (such as wearing a seat belt) can substantially reduce a given risk for an activity, in this case eating. Some conventionally grown commodities are far more apt to contain toxic chemical residues than others.

The Organic Center has devised a “dietary risk index” or DRI to assess the health risk posed by a particular crop which takes into account both the residue levels of pesticides found, and how toxic each pesticide is considered to be. Below are some of their key findings.

Domestically grown fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide DRI:

  • Green beans (DRI 330)
  • Sweet bell peppers (DRI 132)
  • Celery (DRI 104)
  • Cucumbers (DRI 93)
  • Potatoes (DRI 74)
  • Cranberries (DRI 178)
  • Nectarines (DRI 97)

Those figures weren’t nearly as high as for imported produce; imported fruits found to have the highest residue levels came in at more than twice that of the domestically grown ones on the list.

Imported produce DRI numbers:

  • Sweet bell peppers (DRI 720)
  • Lettuce (DRI 326)
  • Cucumbers (DRI 317)
  • Tomatoes (DRI 142)
  • Grapes (DRI 282)
  • Nectarines (DRI 281)
  • Peaches (DRI 266)
  • Pears (DRI 221)

Aside from the health benefits of incorporating more organic food in your diet, organic agriculture helps preserve the integrity of groundwater, fosters sustainable farming practices and the preservation of nutrient-rich soil. But with all these benefits to society, what’s perhaps most important is the ability of organic farming to restore the nutritional value of crops to what it used to be back in the ‘good old days’ when grandma got a lot more in “food value” for her grocery money than today’s shoppers do.