The Benefits of Organic Foods in a Nutshell

Why organics foods are important both for your health and the health of the planet.

Confused about what organic foods actually are? Click here to review the basics.

Some of the benefits of organic foods effect the planet, others positively impact your health. More often than not, the two are intertwined like most green cooking practices.

So what can you expect to get from buying organic foods, besides a higher grocery bill?

Generally Safer Food

With so many food recalls – from beef, to frozen pizza, to pet foods, consumers are naturally concerned about food safety issues more than ever. Certified organic growers follow strict guidelines for safe and hygienic food production.

While it’s true that both organic and conventionally grown foods fall under the same local, state and federal regulations, in order to meet organic certification requirements, organic farms are inspected more frequently, thereby decreasing the likelihood of food handling misconduct.

While organic food recalls are extremely rare, there is much greater traceability if it ever does occur because farmers and handlers must keep extensive records as part of their farm and handling plans in order to be certified organic.

More Nutritious Food

Research shows that organically produced fruits and vegetables have higher levels of minerals and healthy cancer-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts. For instance, a 2003 study which originally appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown strawberries had about 19 percent more antioxidants than conventional.

Organically grown corn outpaced regular by 58.5 percent and organic Marion berries (a variety of blackberry) logged in at 50 percent higher antioxidants.

A decade long UC Davis study found that while the amounts varied between crops, organic tomatoes consistently served up higher levels of antioxidants. A 1993 study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition showed that on average, organically grown food was 63 percent higher in calcium, 73 percent higher in iron, 118 percent higher in magnesium, 125 percent higher in potassium, and 60 percent higher in zinc.

The organic food also contained 19 percent less mercury than convenionally grown produce.

More Flavorful Food

The increased levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals make for more flavorful food. Add to that the fact that organic produce has a lower water content than conventionally grown, making the flavors more true and concentrated. Many varieties of organic produce are grown specifically with flavor in mind.

Taste is more often an afterthought in industrially farmed produce, with considerations like shelf life, ease of shipment, and uniform appearance taking precedence.

Lower Levels of Toxins In Air, Water and Soil

Organic foods promote a less toxic environment for all living things as organic growing practices reduce unwanted chemicals not only in our bodies, but in the air, water and soil. Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers from conventionally grown produce leach into the soil and our water supply through the ground and via drainage run off. Chemical laden sediments are finding their way into wetlands and fish habitats, and synthetic fertilizer drifting downstream is the main culprit blamed for ocean dead zones.

Pesticides also drift via the air we breathe. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) these dangerous chemicals in our air can affect human and environmental health by the resultant pesticide exposures to farm workers, children playing outside, and wildlife and its habitat.

Drift can also contaminate home gardens or another farmer’s crops by causing illegal pesticide residues and/or plant damage.

The problems of chemical farming are eliminated with organic farming practices where farmers use natural, safe methods such as insect predators, mating disruption, traps, and barriers to control pests, and techniques like crop rotation and diversity to maintain soil integrity and keep weeds in check.

Lower Levels of Toxins in Your Body

Eating organic foods also lowers the risk of toxic chemicals in the human body. Because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in food production, people are constantly exposed to levels of pesticide residues through their diets.

By the EPA’s own admission, scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of the health effects of these pesticide residues.

Results from the government’s Agricultural Health Study, an ongoing study of pesticide exposures in farm families, show that farmers who used agricultural insecticides experienced an increase in headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, hand tremors, and other neurological symptoms.

However, because no toxic or synthetic chemicals are used in organic farming, no harmful chemicals can be left on or in the produce.

No Veterinary Chemicals and Food Additives

Many people seem unaware that when eating industrially produced meat and/or dairy products, they are also ingesting unwanted antibiotics, hormones, and other food additives. Why should you care? According to the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), farmers’ use of antibiotics to fatten livestock and poultry enables microbes to build up defenses against the drugs, jump up the food chain, and attack human immune systems.

Eating industrially prepared meat and dairy products can compromise your ability to fight off sickness and disease and public health authorities have linked low-level antibiotic use in conventionally raised livestock directly to greater numbers of people contracting infections that resist treatment with the same drugs.

The philosophy of organic production, however, is to provide conditions that meet the health needs and natural behavior of the animal. Organic livestock are fed 100 percent organic feed. They cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones.

Healthier Soil

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) nearly 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded, undermining the land’s capacity for both present and future production.

Conventional farming practices like mono-cropping deplete the soil of nutrients and erode topsoil. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides cause agricultural pollution.

On the other hand, organic farming practices that work in harmony with nature by rotating crops and using natural, chemical-free ways to control pests naturally prevent topsoil erosion, improve soil fertility, and protect groundwater.

Greater Species Diversity

Organic farming methods not only help maintain natural habitats; they foster species diversity, an important component to the overall health of our planet.

A 2000 UK study done by the Soil Association found that organic farms had five times as many wild plants and 57 percent more insect and animal species in and around the fields.

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