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Organic or Not?

by Sucharu Chris Prakash, eParis Extra!

Q: Are organic foods better for us than conventional foods? Should I spend the extra money and buy organic for the health of my family?

Dr. Chris Prakash
Dr. Chris Prakash

A:  I am asked this question a lot, and often have no idea how to answer. Instinctively, it would appear that “organic” has to be better for us. However, the answer may not be that simple.

Organic products continue to get more popular. Between 1990 and 2011, U.S. sales of organic foods increased from $1 billion to $24.4 billion (Organic Trade Association). Most of us are willing to pay a premium for these products (Organic foods are often twice as expensive as conventional). So, there is a common perception that organic foods are better for us, but is it scientifically proven? – I will try to discuss this issue.

First, we need to understand what organic means. The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to be “greener” and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce don’t use conventional chemical fertilizers, do not use pesticides, and do not give animals growth hormones and antibiotics.

How do you know if something is organic?  In order to be certified as organic by the USDA, all organic foods have to meet strict standards. These standards are based on how these foods are grown and processed. If a product is certified as at least 95% organic, they can display the following seal:

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Organic vs Natural

Organic and natural are not interchangeable terms. The term “natural” doesn’t have a set, strictly defined or regulated definition, while “organic” does. When you see the word “natural” on food packaging, it can mean any number of different things, such as free range or hormone free, but the term “organic” is strictly defined by uniform, federal regulations (as mentioned above).

Is organic better?

This question was researched by a team of scientists at Stanford, and their findings were published in the Sept. 4, 2012 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. They concluded that “there is no difference between organic and conventional foods as far as the nutritional value is concerned”. This was the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods, and included 237 of the most relevant studies to date. The review showed no evidence that conventional foods posed greater health risks than organic products. Organic produce however, had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination in their study.

What should you do?

Now that you know the scientific data, you can make an educated decision whether you should choose “organic”. You may want to buy organic, not for nutritional value, but for other reasons:

  • Concerns about the effects of conventional farming practices on the environment and animal welfare.
  • Taste preference.
  • Limit exposure to pesticide residues.
  • Limit intake of food additives such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and MSG.
  • NOTE: People should aim for healthier diets overall, and eat fruits and vegetables, however they are grown.

This information is strictly an opinion of Dr Prakash, and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Dr Chris Prakash is a contributing columnist, and author of eParisExtra’s “The Doctor is In” column. He is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology Paris. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Oncology and Hematology. He lives in Paris, TX with his wife and two children, and can be reached at 9037850031, or Sucharu.prakash@usoncology.com.

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