In recent years, organic groceries have gone mainstream. It wasn’t long ago that organic foods were found only in specialty stores, but these days organic selections are widely available, even at many conventional grocery stores. Understanding the basic principles behind organic farming and the potential benefits of an organic diet will help you make informed choices as you shop, so let’s explore this food phenomenon.
Organically or Conventionally Grown?
Have you been wondering what the difference is? Organic crops are not subjected to the chemical pesticides and fertilizers common in conventional agricultural practices in America. Organic meats, eggs, and dairy products are labeled as such only if the source animals are reared without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, or other drugs.
While conventional farmers typically apply chemical fertilizers and insecticides to crops, organic farmers use natural fertilizer, which is more environmentally friendly. Natural methods, such as insect predators and physical barriers, reduce crop damage caused by insects without the harmful effects of pesticides. Pesticide exposure can have many negative health effects, including neurotoxicity, immune system suppression, and disruption of the endocrine system which can lead to hormone imbalance. Additionally, pesticides have been linked to decreased reproductive function in both men and women.
The factory-farm practice of using synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics has raised concerns for animal and human health alike. Not only do these practices raise questions about humane animal treatment, but there is a correlation between these substances and human health problems such as allergies, asthma, and early puberty.
Benefits of an Organic Diet
Studies have shown that an organic diet has many benefits, such as an improved immune function and higher nutrient blood levels. In fact, on average, conventional produce has only 83 percent of the nutrients found in organic produce. Studies have found even higher levels of some nutrients, such as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as significantly fewer toxic nitrates, in organic crops. Milk from pasture-raised organic cattle has been shown to have higher levels of Vitamin E, Omega 3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and antioxidants than milk from conventional cows raised in confinement.
If you’ve ever tasted a tree-ripened peach or a vine-ripened tomato, you can appreciate that most produce tastes better when it is allowed to grow in its own time. Organically grown foods tend to have a fresher taste than those that are conventionally grown, as the absence of synthetic chemicals allows the flavor to fully develop.
Introducing Organic Food at Home
Laura Oldham, a Tinker AFB wife and mother of two, began introducing organic food to her family about three years ago. Her interest was initially piqued after her pastor’s wife gave a presentation on the topic, and after following up with her own research, she decided to try it for the potential health benefits for her children.
“I try to do as much as I can organic, but when it’s not possible, I make sure the food in our diets is all natural. I stay away from hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, dyes, and artificial preservatives, and I always read labels to know exactly what is in the foods we eat.” Her initial concern was the cost. “I know some people who will try to tell you that eating organic isn’t more expensive than a conventional diet, but it is. At least until you factor in the costs to your health!” She made the switch gradually, which made it easier on her finances, and gave her family time to adjust to the changes.
Oldham notes that the biggest benefit she’s seen has been improved overall health. “None of us get sick as often, and when we do, we seem to get over it more quickly. Another benefit I’ve noticed with the kids is that they seem calmer.” While she acknowledges that personality plays a role, she firmly believes that their diet makes a difference.
Most studies confirm that an organic diet has many health benefits, including better immune function and higher nutrient contents. Consider replacing a few conventional foods with organically grown produce, meat, or dairy. Products are now widely available at many grocery stores, as well as specialty stores and farmer’s markets, which may offer a larger selection. Bon appetit!
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions.