Benefits of eating organic foods

Home Grown

If you dropped by your local grocery store or fresh produce stand
after I sent you the USDA’s list of top 20 antioxidant-rich foods
(see the e-Alert “Tonight’s Top 20” 7/20/04), you might have been
offered a choice: organic or non-organic.

In terms of health, the choice is clear. But that doesn’t mean it’s an
easy choice.

If you’re like me, every week you brace yourself for that shocking
moment when the cashier at the grocery store hits the “total”
button and you try not to yelp out loud. So I’m always looking for
ways to reduce my grocery bill, not increase it. But there’s no
getting around the fact that if you buy organic rather than non-
organic, you’ll almost certainly end up spending more.

So is it worth the markup? Ultimately, that’s a personal decision.
But to help answer that question, let’s take a look at a report on
organic foods, recently published in “Coronary and Diabetic Care
in the UK 2004.”

Pest control

The organic foods report (prepared by the Soil Association – the
UK’s counterpart to the USDA) addressed eight key topics of food
cultivation, processing and nutritional content, starting with

This is probably the main element that most people associate with
organic foods: that they’re pesticide-free. What’s not so well
known is the connection between pesticide use and the antioxidant
content of food.

In the e-Alert “Quite Contrary” (3/27/03), I told you how crops
that are stressed by insects produce polyphenolic compounds,
which are naturally potent antioxidants. But crops that are treated
with pesticides don’t need the natural protection of polyphenolics,
and produce less of the compounds. So when crops are denied
pesticides, consumers get a double benefit: better nutrition without
the residue of chemical pesticides in the food.

The UK report noted that pesticide use has been associated with a
variety of health risks, including cancer, fetal abnormalities,
chronic fatigue, and Parkinson’s disease. One study revealed that
women with breast cancer are five to nine times more likely to
have traces of pesticides in their blood than women who don’t
have the cancer.

Additives out

Organic foods are free of food additives such as MSG,
hydrogenated fats, and artificial sweeteners and coloring, which
have been associated with a risk of asthma, headaches, growth
retardation, and hyperactivity in children. These additives have
also been linked to the development of allergies – another of the
key elements of the UK report.

Genetically modified (GM) organisms are also not allowed in the
production of organic food. The report notes that only ten studies
of GM foods have been conducted. Among those, the ones that
were completely independent of funding or input from companies
with GM affiliations found evidence of harmful effects in the gut
lining of humans.

The report cautions that until GM crops and food products are
properly tested, “people are, in our opinion, wise to avoid eating
GM food.”

High C

Besides the obvious benefits of not ingesting pesticides, additives,
and GM organisms, organic foods have been found to be more
nutritious than conventionally grown foods. The Soil Association
conducted a study to compare the vitamin and mineral content of
organic foods vs. non-organic foods. The organics won out with
higher levels in all 21 of the examined nutrients.

The vitamin C and magnesium levels in the organic foods were 27
percent and 29 percent higher, respectively, compared to the non-
organic samples. And minerals were found to be significantly
higher in organic spinach, potatoes, cabbage, and lettuce.

Similar results were reported in tests of organic livestock animals
that foraged for fresh food compared to livestock that was given
processed feed. The organic livestock had higher concentrations of
omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – two key
nutrients whose value is well known to HSI members.

Coming around

For several years, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) didn’t
officially recognize any difference between organic foods and
conventionally grown foods. But the UK organic food report
indicates that the official view may be changing. At a public
meeting last year, Sir John Krebs, the Chair of the FSA, admitted
that organic food contains fewer residues of pesticides than foods
grown by conventional means.

So if you’re fortunate enough to have access to fresh, organically
grown produce, the next time you’re given the choice between
lower priced conventionally grown food or higher priced organic,
just ask yourself: Which would Sir John buy?

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“Organic Foods in Relation to Nutrition and Health Key Facts”
Medical News Today, 7/11/04,