Updated: Oct 22, 2018
There seems to be much confusion when it comes to whether or not organic and local food is worth buying. I want to clear up some of the controversy by saying that when it comes to food, organic and local are the standard that anyone seeking health should live by. Organic merely means that a farmer met the standards of growing food that they needed to in order to legally label their food organic. Therefore, organic does not mean that it is free of all toxins. The process is not perfect, and the politics are just as complicated as anything else. However, upon testing, organic food has far fewer harmful chemicals, is much more nutrient dense, and since organic food is not allowed to be genetically modified (GMO), it is a clear vote against that huge genetic food experiment.
GMO foods are a real problem. Not only because they are altering the genes that evolution has carefully sculpted for millions of years but also because by making food GMO more chemicals can be sprayed on them. This means more toxin exposure for us. Just switching to organic food can have a huge impact on health. A 2015 survey of 3,256 people who switched to an organic diet showed that they experienced improvement or complete resolution of symptoms in 17 different ailments or diseases. That is a huge impact and it’s as easy as picking up different produce in the store or at the farmers market.
Organic food being more nutrient dense makes more sense when you think about it. Just like in humans, nutrients are what help plants defend themselves. If we use lots of herbicides and pesticides to create an environment with few natural threats to the plant then not only are we contaminating the plant and environment but we are making it so that the plant doesn’t work hard to acquire the nutrients it would have needed to survive. The result is scarcer nutrients. Further, the herbicide glyphosate, which is widely sprayed on GMO crops, destroys the mineral content of the soil making it impossible for plants to get enough minerals. By choosing organic you are voting for a more natural world, and if enough of us make that choice then maybe we can stop the pollution of our farmlands and halt the production of genetically modified crops—all while improving our health.
The heavy use of chemicals on our farmlands has put us in a pretty dire situation. In her book Primal Fat Burner, Nora Gedgaudas shares some staggering statistics about how our current means of food production is destroying our earth. She tells us that 70% of the world’s grasslands have been degraded, soil is being depleted 13% faster than it can be rebuilt, and we’ve lost 75% of the world crop varieties in the last 100 years. Our modern methods of farming are not only giving us toxic food to eat but are also creating toxic soils that are void of nutrients. By eating organic we are voting with our fork. We are voting to stop, or at least lessen, the amount of chemicals sprayed onto our food and the destruction of our soils.
It is also important to eat as local as possible. The moment a food is picked from a plant or harvested from an animal it slowly starts losing nutrients, so the sooner we eat it the better chance we have of absorbing all the nutrition that the food has to offer us. Also, local food travels less distance, and therefore depletes fewer of our natural resources. Going to a farmers market and buying directly from the farmers—who can even tell you about their precise farming practices—is a great way to increase nutrient content in your food and decrease the cost of resources it takes to get it to you. Developing relationships with those who grow food is also a great way to develop community and learn about where food comes from. Sense of community is extremely valuable with it comes to health.
I rarely escape a conversation about organic food without someone bringing up the fact that it is more expensive and that they can’t afford to eat organic. I first point I like to make about organic food is the more natural food and that it should be what we call conventionally raised food while non-organic food should be the food that should have to be labeled as non-organic. Otherwise, my usual response is that organic prices may be higher but in the long run you will save money on medical bills because you will have much fewer medical expenses. This is proven by the study mentioned above where people experienced improvements or complete resolution in medical conditions and symptoms just from switching to organic food. Also, right now the price of organic is higher because there is extra cost to the farmers who grow their foods organically. Plus, people who want organic will usually pay more for it so the industry knows they can charge more. The answer to this problem is for more people to choose organic. This will create a demand for it, which would force more farmers to convert to organic methods creating more competition and therefore drive prices down. We consumers have more power than we think.
I hope you now realize a little about how important it is to choose organic and local food when possible and how it is a key strategy when looking for the best ways to resource your health. As mentioned above it is impossible to eat completely non-toxic foods these days but going organic still significantly decreases toxin exposure. If going completely organic is not possible for you here is a list of produce items that are the most toxic and most important to buy organic and also a list of some of the least toxic foods and ones that can be okay to buy conventional versions of. The environmental working group keeps an updated list of which foods are important to buy organic. Go to www.EWG.org.
Some of the most toxic foods that are important to buy organic:
Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, kale and collard greens, hot peppers, cucumbers
Some of the least toxic foods that are okay to buy conventional if you have to:
Onions, pineapple, avocado, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, papaya, sweet potatoes, cauliflower
1. Crinnion, Walter J. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Alternative Medicine Review, Apr. 2010, p. 4+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.
2. Smith JM. Survey Reports Improved Health After Avoiding Genetically Modified Foods. International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine 2017; article in review