New Study Rubbishes Organic Food, Or Does It?
With so much confusion and heated debate on the organic topic (not to mention conflicting evidence), we thought it’d be a good idea to take a closer look and discover the truth.
It’s one of the most popular questions that clients at my nutritional therapy practice here in Manchester, UK ask. There has been much debate in recent years as to whether organic food is healthier for you than conventional food, and consequently whether it’s worth paying the extra price for organic.
A study from Stanford University(1) caused quite a stir this week when it claimed that organic food doesn’t always contain more nutrients than conventionally grown foods, however what they also found was that organic food contained 30% less pesticides (guess which part made the newspaper headlines – it wasn’t the bit about fewer pesticides).
In my opinion, even if there is little difference in nutrient content (and there is research that shows organic food does contain more nutrients), a decreased exposure to harmful toxins such as added growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and insecticides, which can play an important role in the development of disease, are well worth avoiding by going organic.
In the UK, the DEFRA Compendium of organic standards offers a baseline for all UK organic production and each certification body has its own standards, based on this Compendium. It lists what materials, methods, and substances can be used in organic farming and food production. For food to be labelled as organic, food producers must conform to the strict regulations set out by the certification body. As a result, eating organic can reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides, insecticides, hormones and antibiotics. Organic beef, chicken, and poultry are raised on 100% organic feed and never given antibiotics or hormones; in addition, their meat is never irradiated. Organic milk and eggs come from animals not given antibiotics or hormones and fed 100% organic feed for the previous 12 months (free-range eggs come from hens that are allowed to roam, but they are not guaranteed to be organic.)
Some shocking facts about non-organic food & your health
- metabolites of organophosphate pesticide (the most widely used group of insecticides in the world) were found in higher than expected levels in prenatal women and has been associated with poorer intellectual development in 7 year old children(2) and one study showed brain anomalies in children whose mothers were exposed to organophosphate pesticide(3)
- elevated levels of these metabolites have also been associated with an increase in the prevalence of ADHD in children aged 8 to 15 years(4)
- pesticides can act as hormones in the body and can therefore promote hormone imbalances(5) – anything from thyroid disorders to infertility
- in the US almost 29 million pounds (in weight) of antibiotics were used in one year(6), on livestock, some people have estimated this to be 80% of the total antibiotic use in the US
- pesticide toxins were detected in 80% of pregnant women’s umbilical cords in a study carried out in Canada(7)
- the UK Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in food surveyed 1398 samples of 29 different foods in the UK, in the third quarter of 2011. They found that 29 samples contained residues above the maximum permitted levels(8). They repeat this survey on different foods every quarter and results are available on their website.
The increased cost of organic foods compared to conventionally grown foods, can make it difficult to switch to a 100% organic diet so it’s worth knowing which foods are generally more heavily contaminated with hormones, pesticides and herbicides than others.
The Environmental Working Group, (a non-profit organization that focuses on protecting public health and the environment regarding public policy) publishes the lists below (Dirty Dozen™ and Clean 15 ™); they are updated annually. Foods are listed in order of importance.
|Dirty Dozen™||Clean 15 ™|
|Highest in Pesticides: in 2012, these 12 popular fruits and vegetables were considered to be the most contaminated with pesticides, so buy organic:||Lowest in Pesticides: in 2012, these 15 popular fruits and vegetables were considered to be the least contaminated with pesticides:|
|Sweet bell peppers||Pineapple|
|Nectarines – imported||Asparagus|
|Cucumbers||Cantaloupe – domestic|
|Blueberries – domestic||Sweet Potatoes|
|+ Green beans||Mushrooms|
|+ May contain pesticide residues of special concern|
And one last important reminder; remember that water also feeds your body, and can contain toxic heavy metals. Limit exposure by drinking filtered or bottled water.
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,
- Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, Sundaram V, Liu H, Schirmer P, Stave C, Olkin I, Bravata DM (2012). Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systemic review. Ann Intern Med 157(5):348-66.
- Bouchard MF, Chevrier J, Harley KG, Kogut K, Vedar M, Calderon N, Trujillo C, Johnson C, Bradman A, Barr DB, Eskenazi B (2011). Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and IQ in 7-year old children. Environ Health Perspect. 119(8):1189-95.
- Rauh VA, Perera FP, Horton MK, Whyatt RM, Bansal R, Hao X, Liu J, Barr DB, Slotkin TA, Peterson BS (2012). Brain anomalies in children exposed prenatally to a common organophosphate pesticide. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A15;109(20):7871-6.
- Bouchard MF, Bellinger DC, Wright RO, Weisskopf MG (2010). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics 125(6):e1270-7.
- Iaglova NV, Iaglov VV (2012). [Endocrine disruptors are a novel direction of endocrinologic scientific investigation]. Vestn Ross Akad Med Nauk. (3):56-61.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (2009). Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals [Online]. Available at http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForIndustry/UserFees/AnimalDrugUserFeeActADUFA/UCM231851.pdf (Accessed 9 Sep 12).
- Aris A, Leblanc S (2011). Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol 31(4):528-33.
- Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (2012). Pesticide Residues Monitoring Programme for Quarter 4 2011 [Online]. Available at http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/Resources/CRD/PRiF/Q4_2011_report.pdf (Accessed 9 Sep 12).