Eating organic is a basic tenant of Paleo principles, but many people look at the price difference between conventional and organic labels and wonder if there’s really any difference. The benefits of organic food may be difficult to appreciate when it comes to its effects on the wallet, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see that there are many reasons to choose this higher-quality option.
1. Organic Food Contains Fewer Toxins
Chemical fertilizers and pesticides wreak havoc on your body. Many of these toxins are endocrine disruptors. They interrupt hormone balance and cause disease, including thyroid disorders, obesity and low sperm counts.
They also disrupt neurotransmitters in the brain, which can lead to a wide range of psychological and physiological conditions like depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s. Neurotransmitters modulate every facet of our life including our thoughts, moods, behaviors, perception, energy, memory, cognitive functions, and ability to focus.
Other dangerous chemicals are known carcinogens that increase the risks of certain cancers. You will always be affected by these chemicals in one way or another because they are in the air, water, and soil to some extent. But, lightening your toxic load has been shown to reduce your risk of disease.
Be mindful of the foods that contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues. Products found on the Environmental Working Group “Dirty Dozen” list should always be purchased in their organic forms which in the year 2014 included snap peas, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, peaches, celery, grapes, strawberries, and apples. Leafy greens and hot peppers are runners-up for the dirty dozen.
2. Organic Food Helps Prevent Birth Defects
Chemicals found in pesticides have been shown to cause neurodevelopmental problems in a developing fetus. Research reveals that autism, ADHD, and other neurological issues are associated with exposure to these environmental toxins.
Studies show that mothers with higher blood levels of certain pesticides have children with increased risks of mental and emotional issues. Substituting conventional products with organics reduces exposure and the risks that follow.
3.Organic Food Protects Future Generations
It might be difficult to imagine, but the benefits of eating organic food can even impact the health of your grandchildren.
Scientists who study epigenetics are able to determine how factors outside of genetic makeup influence health – how genes are affected beyond the DNA sequence. For example, issues like smoking, poor diet, toxins, chronic stress, and microbes, can all influence gene expression and increase the risk of certain diseases. Epigenetics are also factors that determine whether a genetic vulnerability will be expressed or not. For example, you may have a genetic vulnerability to cancer, but it may not be expressed unless you drink alcohol, smoke, or are exposed to pesticides.
Epigenetic factors can be passed from generation to generation. Therefore, your dietary choices and toxic exposure can affect the health and development of your future children–and even your children’s children. These epigenetic factors can contribute to conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction, hyperactivity, attention deficit, cardiovascular disease, mental retardation, and cancer.
4. Organic Food is Higher in Certain Nutrients
Organic vegetables and fruits have proven to contain higher amounts of many nutrients like iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and other antioxidants. The cancer-fighting properties that make plant foods so beneficial are included in greater concentrations in organic varieties.
When left to look out for themselves, fruits and vegetables produce substances called phenolics (a type of antioxidant) to defend themselves from pests, which increases their antioxidant level. This action is inhibited when pesticides and herbicides are present.
On the same note, organic meat and its byproducts are free of hormones and antibiotics that can cause disease and contribute to bacterial resistance and they are also richer in nutrients like powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant CLA and omega-3s that are needed for a healthy brain and heart.
5. Organic Food Tastes Better
Taste tests show that organic food simply tastes better than those that have been sprayed with pesticides. Arguably, the best example of this fact is in the strawberry: conventional strawberries lack the flavor, texture, and color of organic berries.
Both people and animals know instinctively that food that tastes better is better for you. A piece of bland fruit with a mushy texture and pale color isn’t packed with nutrients like its fresh and vibrant cousin. That’s why we don’t choose them, even without a course in nutrition science.
6. It’s Better for the Planet
Pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals used in conventional farming don’t just impair human health, it affects many animal species, our water supply, air quality, and the planet itself. Organic farming preserves soil and the ecosystem (insects, frogs, organisms, birds, wildlife), and reduces air and water pollution.
Conventional agriculture uses a variety of chemicals that affect people and the environment in a number of ways. Making the best choices in the aisles of the supermarket can affect many lives beyond your own. Keep in mind all of the benefits of organic food, and choose wisely as you fill your cart with this week’s menu items.
Simmons, D. (2008) Epigenetic influence and disease. Nature Education 1(1):6
Environmental Working Group, 2014 Shoppers Guide to Pesticide in Produce.
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. Volume 7, Number 2, 2001 PP. 161—173