Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is It Worth It to Splurge on Organic Food?

I just couldn't leave it alone. After my posting about the chemicals and poisonous add ins that manufacturers put in our food, I just have to follow up with this article I read recently.

Your Organic Food Guide

Are organic foods worth the splurge? The answer: Some of them.

By Sara Calabro

Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

Organic food is in. Whether it’s Oprah interviewing Michael Pollan, the world’s best-known pro-organic food writer, or your neighborhood grocery store posting signs for its stock of organic foods, you may feel like messages about organic food benefits have exploded in recent years. And you’d be right: In less than 20 years, the organic food industry has mushroomed — from $1 billion in 1990 to $20 billion in 2007. In 2006 alone, sales of organic foods and beverages grew by 20.9 percent.

One message in particular — that organic food increases longevity — is especially compelling. Pundits and media outlets have latched onto this organic food benefits claim, hoping it’ll serve as the ultimate incentive for Americans to go organic.

But the scientific community is divided on whether organic foods offer enough health benefits to justify the added expense.

12 Organic Foods That Are Worth The Cost

A recent study in the United Kingdom looked at the nutritional quality of organic foods and concluded that there was no significant difference between the benefits derived from organic and non-organic foods. In response, organic food advocates discredited the study, claiming that the researchers downplayed findings in favor of organic food and failed to include important factors such as antioxidant capacity.

So, which organic foods live up to this claim of increased longevity? And which are the best organic foods to buy — worth the extra cost? One of the commonly cited reasons in favor of buying organic is that organic foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, have fewer pesticides. Many of the pesticides that are used on conventionally grown food were approved before the scientific and medical communities began actively researching the link between pesticide exposure and disease. Only in recent years has great attention been paid to how the food we eat affects our quality of life — and how long we get to enjoy it.

A recent study from Tennessee State University looked at how certain compounds affect our immune systems. Researchers concluded that, among others, DDT, a pesticide that’s used to control insects on food crops, decreases the function of natural killer (NK) cells in the body. NK cells are the body’s first line of defense against viral pathogens and tumor cells. A decrease in their function means an increased susceptibility to cancer and certain viruses.

The following fruits and vegetables have been identified as requiring high levels of pesticide use when conventionally grown, so, as a general rule, they are safest when grown organically:

Bell peppers
15 Foods That Don’t Have to be Organic

Fruits and vegetables that are conventionally grown with relatively fewer pesticides include the following:

Sweet corn
Sweet peas
Sweet potatoes
Facts About Organic Food Labeling

In addition to fruits and vegetables that are directly sprayed with pesticides, contaminants often make their way into the rest of our food chain through conventional animal feeding systems and industrial pollution. Recent studies have shown evidence of pesticide residue in certain fish, eggs, chicken, beef, and lamb.

Organic animal products, like organic fruits and vegetables, are grown in certified farm fields and processing facilities that operate without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. However, not all organic foods are free of pesticide residue, so it is important to perform your own detailed research before spending extra money.

Organic labeling can sometimes be deceiving. Only the "100 percent organic" label denotes a completely organic product. Under U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, however, products that contain 95 percent organic ingredients can also be labeled "USDA Organic." To qualify for a "Made with Organic Ingredients" label, the product must be made with 70 percent organic ingredients, while products with less than 70 percent of organic ingredients must limit organic labeling to the ingredients list.

Beef and chicken, and their associated by-products such as milk and eggs, are relatively easy to label. For example, there are clear standards for when and where livestock can be treated as organic. To qualify as organic, the land on which the livestock resides must be chemical-free for at least three years. These standards help simplify decisions about whether to buy organic beef, milk, chicken, and eggs.

Chemical-free farming also greatly reduces the need for antibiotics. Animals, such as cows and chickens, grown in conventional settings are given more than 24 million pounds of antimicrobials and antibiotics per year so they can fight infections and grow larger. People who ingest large quantities of foods containing antibiotics put themselves at risk for developing resistance to antibiotic medicines.

As for fish, the USDA's National Organic Standards Board in 2008 passed criteria that could lead to the adoption of organic labeling for fish. But the concept of "organic fish" is controversial because of the challenges associated with protecting water supplies and fish feed.

A commitment to organic eating can be an important one for you and your family. But before shelling out extra money for organic foods, it's wise to pay attention to labeling and to know what’s worth the cost.

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