Why do You Need Organic Food?

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July 23, 2003 | 48,367 views

ByDr. Joseph Mercola with Rachael Droege

The decision to purchase organic food over conventionallygrown food is a personal one, and as you walk through thesupermarket, many of which are now adding organic sections,you will likely ask the question: Is organic food really better?

Well, organic food is certainly growing in popularity, andthe global sales reflect this having increased over 10 percentto reach $23 billion in 2002.

The U.S. market is also expanding as consumers increase theirdemand for healthy and natural products. U.S. organic foodsales have increased from $3.5 billion in 1996 to more than$9 billion in 2001.

Organic farming differs from conventional farming in themethods used to grow crops. Where traditional farmers applychemical fertilizers to the soil to grow their crops, organicfarmers feed and build soil with natural fertilizer. Traditionalfarmers use insecticides to get rid of insects and disease,while organic farmers use natural methods such as insect predatorsand barriers for this purpose. Traditional farmers controlweed growth by applying synthetic herbicides, but organicfarmers use crop rotation, tillage, hand weeding, cover cropsand mulches to control weeds.

The result is that conventionally grown food is often taintedwith chemical residues, which can be harmful to humans. Thereis debate over whether dietary exposure to pesticides at levelstypically found on food is dangerous, but experts say thatconsumers should use caution. The Environmental ProtectionAgency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percentof fungicides and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic.

Pesticides can have many negative influences on health, includingneurotoxicity, disruption of the endocrine system, carcinogenicityand immune system suppression. Pesticide exposure may alsoaffect male reproductive function and has been linked to miscarriagesin women.

Aside from pesticide contamination, conventional producetends to have fewer nutrients than organic produce. On average,conventional produce has only 83 percent of the nutrientsof organic produce. Studies have found significantly higherlevels of nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium andphosphorus, and significantly less nitrates (a toxin) in organiccrops.

There is little question that organic foods are superiorto non-organic ones. However, I see many patients who arenot eating any vegetables because they either cannot affordthem or they are too difficult to obtain.

Please understand that it is better to eat non-organic vegetablesthan no vegetables at all.

In the same vein, it is also important to realize that freshnon-organic vegetables will be better than wilted and rottenorganic vegetables that are occasionally the only ones availablein smaller organic produce stands. There are many highly perishablenutrients that degrade with time and exposure to air and ultravioletradiation. If the organic vegetables are seriously damagedthen it would be far wiser to eat fresh, undamaged non-organicvegetables.

Hopefully, as the demand for organic increases the priceswill drop, and the supply will increase making it far easierto obtain relatively inexpensive high-quality organic produce.

If you must buy conventional produce, there are ways to reduceyour pesticide exposure. Thoroughly washing all fruits andvegetables will help, although all pesticide residues cannotbe removed by washing. You can also remove the outer layerof leaves or peel vegetables if possible. Another alternativeis to grow your own vegetables, although this takes space,time and climate considerations.

Another option is to buy organic produce selectively, ascertain foods tend to have higher or lower amounts of pesticides.The following foods tend to have the highest levels of pesticides(from Environmental Working Group's FoodNews.org):

Fruit Vegetables
1. Peaches 1. Spinach
2. Apples 2. Bell Peppers
3. Strawberries 3. Celery
4. Nectarines 4. Potatoes
5. Pears 5. Hot Peppers
6. Cherries  
7. Red Raspberries  
8. Imported Grapes  


These foods tend to be lower in pesticide levels:

Fruit Vegetables
1. Pineapples 1. Cauliflower
2. Plantains 2. Brussels Sprouts
3. Mangoes 3. Asparagus
4. Bananas 4. Radishes
5. Watermelon 5. Broccoli
6. Plums 6. Onions
7. Kiwi Fruit 7. Okra
8. Blueberries 8. Cabbage
9. Papaya 9. Eggplant
10. Grapefruit  
11. Avocado  


In the case of organic foods such as grains and milk, youare better off avoiding these products all together. Organicgrain will disrupt your insulin levels just like ordinarygrain, and organicmilk is pasteurized, which comes with its own slew ofnegative health effects. Your best bet is to avoidgrains and choose rawmilk instead.