IS ORGANIC FOOD BETTER? By Sucharu Chris Prakash, MD
Common perception dictates that organic produce is healthier. If our products are grown without using pesticides, or injecting antibiotics and hormones, it’s got to be better, right. Maybe not!
Organic products continue to get more popular. Organic food industry is a multibillion dollar enterprise ($24.4 billion to be exact). This popularity has spawned the growth of grocery store chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes, all over the country. Most of us are willing to pay a premium for these products. After all, organic foods are often twice as expensive as conventional, and may not be readily available at the local grocery store.
What is organic?
“Organic” is a pretty simple concept. Farmers who grow organic produce don’t use chemical fertilizers, do not use pesticides, and do not give animals growth hormones and antibiotics. Organic produce can be fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products or meat. Organic farming practices are designed to be “greener” and reduce pollution. Organic products can sometimes be mislabeled and thereby misleading. In order to be certified as organic by the USDA, all 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 will display the official USDA “Organic” seal. Some produce may be labeled as “natural”, which is different from organic. The word “natural” on food packaging 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.
Is organic better?
This question was researched by a team of scientists at Stanford, and their findings were published in the 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, which would be expected. This analysis stresses the point that organic foods are produced with fewer pesticides and more natural-growing practices, but that doesn’t always translate into a more nutritious or healthier product.
The Dirty Dozen
Some foods are considered high risk due to a higher concentration of pesticides that may be on the surface or even inside the produce. The Environmental Working Group calls these the dirty dozen. It may make sense to buy these organic if possible. The dirty dozen includes: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Nectarines, Grapes, Sweet bell peppers, Potatoes, Domestic blueberries, Lettuce, Kale and other collard greens.
Should you buy organic?
Now that you know the scientific data, you can make an educated decision whether you should choose “organic”. Some of the reasons for buying organic foods are:
- 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.firstname.lastname@example.org