The best start to creating a healthier and happier life is to commit to healthy eating. Making changes in our eating habits can be difficult for some individuals at least in the beginning. The decision to improve our eating habits can be the most rewarding decision, producing benefits in all aspects of our lives—physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and sexually. Healthy eating goes beyond eating more fruits, vegetables, good fats, and 100% whole unprocessed grains.
We also need to consider how foods are grown/raised, processed, preserved, packaged, and sustained. Organic foods have become very popular and the demand has been increasing steadily. What does organic mean? What are the benefits of organic foods? Why are there so many different organic labels?
What does organic mean?
Organic refers to the way a product has been grown or raised. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides or genetically modify foods. Organic livestock may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones or any animal-byproducts. They can only be fed organic feed and must have access to the outdoors.
What are the benefits of organic foods?
1. Organic foods contain fewer pesticides. These are chemicals that kill fungi/molds, weeds, and insects. The residues of these chemicals remain on and in the food we eat. Children and fetuses are the most vulnerable to pesticide residues because of their actively developing brains and bodies. Exposure to these chemicals, at an early age, can lead to developmental delays as well as behavioral and muscle dysfunctions.
Pregnant women are the next most vulnerable as their organs are already highly taxed by the developing baby. Pesticides are also passed to the fetus via the placenta and through breast milk. Damage to the nervous system due to exposure during pregnancy and breast feeding may not be evident until late childhood. The main point that needs to be made is that these pesticides do not cause an immediate health problem. It is the build-up in our bodies that leads to significant health conditions, especially a weakened immune system. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to autoimmune diseases, migraine headaches, endometriosis, infertility and cancer.
2. Organic food is often fresher, and it often tastes better. It is believed that organic food will have more nutrients at the time of consumption. This is mainly due to the fact that as food sits, the nutrients gradually decline. The use of preservatives allow a food to last longer, therefore, the food is often eaten long after the nutrient value has already significantly decreased. There is a lot more research that needs to be done in this particular area of organic foods.
3. Organic farming is better for the environment. Organic farming produces less pollution to our air, water and soil, conserves water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and uses less energy. Organic farming is better for birds and small animals because chemical pesticides often can decrease their fertility and even kill them. Lastly, it is best for the health of those who harvest the crops.
4. Organically raised animals are NOT given antibiotics, growth hormones, and they are not fed animal byproducts.
The use of antibiotics in conventional meat products is one of the causes of antibiotic resistance in bacteria such as MRSA. This means that if someone got sick with antibiotic resistant bacteria, antibiotics would not help them. This could be critical because, more than likely, their immune system is already weakened due to chronic ingestion of pesticides, chemicals, and low nutrient/processed foods.
Organically raised animals are often healthier than conventionally raised animals. You do not want to eat a diseased animal! For instance, there is a high rate of mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands) in conventionally raised dairy cows. This leads to excess “pus” in your milk. This will cause more digestive problems and allergies. This is why we suggest buying organic milk.
What do the different labels mean?
Reading labels can be very confusing and misleading for the average shopper. When you are shopping for organic foods, look for the “USDA Organic” seal. These are the foods that are 95–100% organic. The most important point to understand is that “natural” does not equal “organic.” “Natural” is actually a term frequently used but is completely unregulated, and any company can use it to label any product. This is a prime example of how deceiving marketing techniques can be. The following is a list of labels you may see with the accurate definition.
|100% Organic||Every ingredient in that food product is organic. May display the USDA seal.|
|Organic||Product contains at least 95% organic ingredients. May display the USDA seal.|
|Made with Organic Ingredients||Product contains at least 70% organic ingredients. Will not display the USDA seal.|
|Contains Organic Ingredients||Product contains less than 70% organic ingredients. Will not display the USDA seal.|
Specific MEAT and DAIRY Labels:
1. Natural or “minimally processed” —Foods cannot contain any artificial flavors, preservatives or other artificial ingredients. Animals can still be given antibiotics or growth enhancers. Ex. This is seen on all raw cuts of beef because they are not processed.
2. Grass fed—The animals are fed solely on grass or hay and have access to the outdoors. The animals are much higher in the healthy omega 3 fatty acids than grain fed animals. Grain fed animals produce more saturated fats. Make sure the product is “grass finished” as well. Often times, the animals may be grass fed but the last month before slaughter will then be “beefed” up with grains. This totally displaces the healthy omega 3s with saturated fats.
3. Free Range—The animals were not confined to a cage and had some access to the outdoors. In many cases, animals that receive only an hour a day outside a cage can be considered “free range.” You will have to contact the producer directly to get complete clarification.
4. No hormones added—The animal is raised without the use of added growth hormones. This term is helpful for beef and dairy products. However, please be aware that by law poultry and pigs cannot be given any hormones, so don’t pay extra for chicken or pork that use this label. “No hormones added” on chicken is a marketing ploy only.
An important note to make is that simply because the food product does not have the “Certified Organic” label does not mean the food has not been grown/raised organically. The certification process is a very rigorous and expensive process. Many independent farmers choose not to go through this process, mainly because they lack sufficient funds. Therefore, when shopping at a farmer’s market do not hesitate to ask the vendors how their food was grown.
Why does organic cost more?
The truth is that organic food doesn’t always cost more. Some items, such as coffee, cereal, bread, and even hamburger, can cost the same or even less than their conventional counterparts. As an added perk, as the demand for organic produce continues to grow, the cost will continue to decrease. When shopping and you see that the cost is higher, consider these facts:
- Organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like conventional farmers do. Because of this, the price of organic food mirrors the true cost of growing.
- The price of conventional food does not reflect the actual cost of environmental cleanup that we pay for with our tax dollars.
- Organic farming is more labor intensive and management intensive.
- Organic farms are usually smaller than conventional farms and therefore do not benefit from the economies of scale that are available to larger growers.
The reason we at the Riordan Clinic recommend organic ingredients is simple: we want our patients to indulge in delicious food that is better for them and for the environment. Before making the decision to go organic, do some research. Find out where there are farmer’s markets in your area as well as organic farms. Also, visit www.organic.org for more information on the benefits of using organic food.