Walk down the aisles of any natural grocery store and you have your pick of all the organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy and meats you could ever want. But the organic choices don’t stop there. Because organic food is becoming more mainstream, companies are starting to produce organic versions of their processed foods like organic cookies, potato chips and chocolate bars. But is buying organic food really healthier? The short answer is yes…and no. Let’s take a look at why.
Junk Is Junk No Matter What the Label Says
Just because it says organic on the label doesn’t always mean it’s now magically healthy. Take for instance Cascadian Farms Fruity O’s cereal. Certainly a better option than the Original Fruit Loops we all ate as children, but clearly not void of refined oils, sugar, natural flavors and other processed ingredients. Many of these organic junk foods are giving you a great deal of calories, sodium and sugar with little nutrient payback.
Read those labels! The most important part of the food package is not the claims made on the front, but the list of ingredients on the back or side. If you see highly refined ingredients such as white flour, sugar, oils or ingredients you wouldn’t normally keep in your own kitchen, then it most likely is a junky processed food and needs to be put back on the shelf. Organic foods to look out for are sweetened drinks, cookies, crackers, energy bars, granola bars and chips. They are just organic junk foods with little nutrient reward.
The scientific debate has raged on for many years about the benefits of buying organic produce, but if you are in the camp that believe toxic chemicals can have dangerous effects on your health, then the answer is clear cut. A large scale study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that:
“Overall, organic crops had 18 to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidant compounds…consumers who switch to organic fruit, vegetables and cereals would get 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants. That’s the equivalent of about two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with no increase in caloric intake.”
Another study done by the Consumers Union covered about 94,000 samples from more than 20 different crops. They consistently found organic crops had about 1/3 as many pesticides than conventionally grown crops. They also found 31% of the conventionally grown crops had residues while only 6.5% in organic samples, and found multiple residues 9 times as often in conventional samples.
In the United States, more than 80% or more of many major crops (including corn, soy, and sugar beets) are grown from genetically engineered seed. This means that pesticides are either bred directly into the seed to ward off pests or the seeds are modified to withstand pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on the crops. (read more about GMO’s) And while Monsanto and the EPA consistently claim there is no impact at all on consumers, in a 2011 study done by doctors at Sherbrooke Hospital in Quebec, they found the presence of several GMO remnants in non-pregnant and pregnant women and the umbilical blood of their babies. I also love this video showing what happened to a family after they made a switch to organic food. No effect? I’m not convinced.
Is Organic Worth the Cost?
I believe there is compelling reasons to buy organic whenever possible so as to avoid contributing to toxic chemical accumulation in our water, soil and our bodies. However, buying all organic can get expensive. If organic food doesn’t fit within your budget, then focus on the ingredient list instead. The ingredient list on a package is far more important to me than any other label. It is better to eat conventional fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds and beans than foods found in a box, can or bag regardless if they are organic or not. As discussed earlier, even organic processed foods can contain a plethora of questionable ingredients.
If you like the idea of eating more organic and have some extra money in your budget, use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to identify which produce has the highest pesticides loads. If you are interested in reducing the antibiotics and GMO feed that is given to animals you may be eating, find a local, organic farm and purchase your meat and eggs from them. Often times you can buy in bulk and save money overall.
For more ideas of how to save money on organic foods, read Real Food on a Budget.
What’s your thoughts on organics? Do you buy a lot of organic foods? I’d love to hear!
Until next time, keep it real.