Eating organic can be expensive, but then again, so is having cancer and diabetes. Deciding to go organic requires becoming informed, and eventually deciding to invest in your “health 401k”. In 1932 the US Department of Agriculture wanted to start raising chickens in factories where eggs and chickens could be massively produced. They experimented with their diet and found that the hens that were confined and fed soy, grain and wheat products either stopped laying eggs or the chicks from the eggs had a high mortality rate. When the hens were taken out of confinement and returned to pasture where they could eat their customary diet of grass, seeds and bugs, their eggs became healthy again. Doesn’t it make you wonder what the low, but constant exposure to processed foods treated with hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers and pesticides might be doing to your body? Perhaps eating organic now won’t make a difference today, but by middle age, if you’re not eating organic and you combine that with being overweight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating a diet high in processed foods and meat, don’t you wonder what the consequences will be in your future?
The US organic food industry has grown by 12% annually since 2010 due to increased awareness of the health, food safety, environmental and local economic impact of buying local and organic foods and animal products. Understanding the benefits and what it means to be organic can help you to choose whether or not to eat organic.
What Does It Mean To Be “Organic” in Animal Products?
This chicken could have been fed grains and candy and never seen the light of day. This kind of diet changes the desired Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio to the more unhealthy levels that promote obesity, diabetes and cancer
To be organic, animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products must never have been treated with antibiotics or hormones. The Sustainable Table website collected information on the terminology found on labels to help you better understand what a product is delivering. To know you are getting the absolute best for your health, the environment and for the animal (isn’t a happy heifer a moooo-t point? ) you want to choose produce and animal products from organic, pasture fed, local and sustainable farms. Do not think that a label that states “natural” comes close to meeting these criteria. A Label stating “natural” only addresses what happens to the meat and poultry after the animal is dead and that nothing artificial has been added in the processing of it. It does not mean that the animal, while it was alive, wasn’t given antibiotics or hormones. In order to be labeled organic the food has to meet the USDA’s strict standards and be certified through a USDA agency. To be organic the animal must never have been treated with antibiotics or hormones, poultry and pork are never treated with hormones by law anyway. They must be fed organically grown foods, without the use of fertilizers or pesticides, and must have access to the outdoors. However having “access to the outdoors” does not mean they actually may graze out there – a barn door might just be open. To know your steak is coming from grass fed farms you want the label to also say pasture-raised or at least “pasture finished”. Then you know the animal was eating the way nature intended it to eat – grass fed – and in a sustainable manner. Sustainable means a closed loop cycle where the animal’s waste naturally fertilizes the soil, yielding better quality grass and no artificial fertilizers are used. In cold climates, these animals are fed hay like our forefathers did hundreds of years ago. This method creates less methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide than large animal farms where animals are fed sterilized city garbage, floor sweepings from plants that make animal food, candy, corn and other cheaper feeds that yield an unhealthier meat and poultry- and the animals do not live the way they were intended to live.
The Benefits of Eating Organic Poultry, Dairy Products and Grass Fed Beef
- A 2011 study done in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate grass fed beef had higher blood levels of the heart protective Omega 3’s and lower levels of the pro-inflammatory Omega 6’s than people who had eaten grain fed beef. They found that people who had eaten grain fed beef had lower levels of Omega 3’s and higher levels of the Omega 6’s. A healthy diet should consist of a 4:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3. A higher ratio of Omega 6 over Omega 3 fatty acids is also associated with obesity, inflammatory diseases and diabetes. The average American diet contains a much higher level of Omega 6’s to Omega 3’s.
- According to an article in the 2011 Clinical Infectious Diseases scientific journal, it is estimated that 47% of meat and poultry sold in stores across America are infected with drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus due steady use of low doses of antibiotics that created the presence of drug resistant Staph. So you better make sure you store, handle and cook your meat well!
- In the May 12, 2010 Journal of Clinical Nutrition, research on 3500 people who consumed dairy products from grass fed cows, revealed they had high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a heart healthy fat, in their tissues which is also a potential cancer fighter. Despite the high levels of saturated fat, they concluded that the high levels of CLA may have offset the damage from saturated fats.
- In a March 10, 2010 a NIH Nutrition Journal article on a comparison in nutrients of grass fed versus grain fed beef, it was determined that grass fed beef contains more CLA, fewer saturated fatty acids, a better Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio, more cancer fighting antioxidants, and less overall fat composition.
What Does It Mean to Be “Organic” in Produce
To be organic means that produce is grown without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation. This means amending the soil with compost, manure and adjusting the pH naturally with lime or wood ashes. It means optimizing the soil for water retention, nutrients and natural microbes in order to keep the plant healthy.
The Health Benefits of Eating Organic Produce
The Eatwild website, founded by Jo Robinson who wrote the New York Times article, Breeding the Nutrition Out of Foods, lists some benefits of eating organic and local. The health benefits are listed below:
- A meta-analysis done by the European Food Safety Authority, examining a large number of studies done since 2006, concluded that previous research has not been adequate or clearly conclusive except to support that childhood leukemia and Parkinson’s Disease has been strongly linked to the use of certain pesticides. However, they did find an increased risk for endocrine disorders, asthma, allergies, diabetes and obesity associated with pesticides.
- The CDC has a large database, SPIDER, for tracking individual exposure to pesticide for each state and in a 2004 fact sheet states that long term exposure to pesticides has been linked to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.
- In a National Institute of Health article, the use of fertilizers puts the water we drink at risk by raising nitrogen levels from runoff. High levels of nitrogen levels in our drinking water has been linked to cancer, birth defects, diabetes and thyroid conditions.
- Organic fruits and vegetables have higher levels of nutrients and disease fighting phytochemicals
- Organically grown produce has more biodiversity so that they are better able to fight off dangerous disease causing microbes that can lead to food poisoning.
- Certain non-genetically modified fruits and vegetables, like purple Peruvian potatoes, arugula, and wild blueberries are higher in antioxidants
Keep in mind these pesticides and fertilizers are not just coming from our foods but also what we are exposed to when we fertilize our lawns, control our weeds, control our ants, cock roaches and termites and what may be sprayed in the air to control annoying insects.
How to Begin Going Organic
The Center For Science in the Public Interest has a wonderful article on going organic which includes a more complete list of the best produce choices. In general, you want to buy foods grown and processed only in the US and Canada where there is more pesticide regulation. Peaches, apples, pears, grapes and berries are fruits that absorb more of the pesticides through their skins and are worth going organic. Peppers, squash, green beans and greens are the vegetables that can have the greatest impact going organic. There are food cooperatives that sell only organic produce that you can join to get produce at a more affordable rate. You can go to the Farm Fresh For ME website to find a cooperative in Maine.
For meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products, gradually go organic where your wallet will allow. Keep in mind that 4 oz of meat or the size of a deck of cards, is all your body really needs at one time. Eating more fish and vegetarian meals with plant sourced protein like soy can cut the cost while limiting exposure to hormones and antibiotics provided they are raised in a safe environment. Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet and whole grains can add volume and fullness factor if you are used to eating larger portions of meat. The bottom line, learn about your food sources or buy these foods at places that do the work for you like Whole Foods and the food cooperatives. There are many farmer’s markets that sell organic meats and animal products year round. Maine Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) has a link to a complete list of farmer’s markets in Maine.
Going organic will be more expensive but remember those chickens that were denied their natural diet of bugs, seeds and grasses? If their reproductive system and their offspring were seriously affected don’t you wonder what the constant barrage of harmful chemicals from antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers in our foods are doing to your body over time? Stopping the fast food and highly processed diet and moving towards home cooked meals made with more organic products is going to nourish your body, make it a cancer fighting engine, improve heart health and protect your offspring. Keep your meat portions smaller, join your local food cooperative to keep you organic prices lower, and choose the organic fruit and veggies that count the most and that will make it more affordable. Now that is a nice pay back for your health 401k.