Over the last 100 years, our diet and farming practices have changed drastically while our bodies and our genetics have not. Our great-great-grandparents subsisted on a completely organic diet. Modern or conventional farming methods that involve the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides simply did not exist back then. Organic food has become very popular. But navigating the maze of organic food labels, benefits, and claims can be confusing. Is organic food really better for your mental and physical health? Do GMOs and pesticides cause cancer and other diseases? What do all the labels mean? This guide can help you make better choices about shopping organic, including what to focus on and how to make eating organic more affordable.
What does “organic” mean?
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. While the regulations vary from country to country, organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products.
The benefits of organic food:
How your food is grown or raised can have a major impact on your mental and emotional health as well as the environment. Organic foods often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, than their conventionally-grown counterparts and people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives often find their symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organic foods.
1. Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat.
2. Organic food is often fresher because it doesn’t contain preservatives that make it last longer. Organic produce is often (but not always, so watch where it is from) produced on smaller farms near where it is sold.
3. Organic farming is better for the environment. Organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. Farming without pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close to farms.
4. Organically raised animals are NOT given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts. Feeding livestock animal byproducts increases the risk of mad cow disease (BSE) and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Organically-raised animals are given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which help to keep them healthy.
5. Organic meat and milk are richer in certain nutrients. Results of a 2016 European study show that levels of certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, were up to 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions.
6. Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide.
Another important finding, also supported by previous studies was organic foods had lower cadmium content than conventional crops. There is no safe level of cadmium, as it is a known carcinogen and produces a number of negative effects on human health. Your highest rate of exposure is from plant-based foods grown in contaminated soil or using certain fertilizers. Other sources include smoking and exposure to nickel-cadmium batteries.
Once absorbed, your body efficiently retains cadmium, which can build up over your lifetime unless you take steps to remove it. Being deficient in calcium, iron, protein and/or zinc may worsen cadmium uptake and toxicity. Antagonists that can help detoxify cadmium include calcium, zinc, copper, vitamin D and C, iron, manganese and protein. Cadmium is very toxic to your kidneys, may trigger bone demineralization and increases your risk of dying from lung cancer. It can also affect your blood pressure, prostate health and testosterone levels.
Organically raised animals also reduce your exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria as the organic practice of preventing animal disease restricts the use of antibiotics in production. Minimizing your exposure to these bacteria may minimize your risk of illness and may have significant public health benefits.
So after reading this article, you can see that choosing organic is truly a down payment on our food future. From the top to bottom, we can’t afford to not eat organic food. At the grocery store, look for the green and white circular USDA Organic label. Organic produce often times has a 9 at the start of the PLU (Price look-up codes) numbers on the sticker or simply look for signs and labels that say “organic”. The cheapest alternative to adopting this lifestyle is to grow your own organic food, buy direct from a farmer at a farm stand, farmers market, or opting into a community supported agriculture (CSA) program in your community. If you demand it, growers will supply it and the price for organic will decrease as it becomes available in every community!
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