Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Going organic has grown in popularity in recent years. And for good reason!
According to cancer.gov, in 2016 alone it was estimated that “1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease.” Cancer is among the leading cause of death worldwide, and with these statistics it feels like each and every one of us have been affected by it in some way. Disease prevention, as well as general avoidance of toxic substances that can cause anything from allergic reactions to hormonal imbalance and reproductive issues rank highest among the reasons that many people choose to go organic.
So to help with that, let's look at what that organic label actually means and why it is so important to go organic:
The USDA National Organic Program defines organic as:
“Food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”
There are different levels of organic, and the USDA has created three different categories or organic labeling:
100% Organic=the product was made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic=the product was made with at least 95% organic ingredients
Made with Organic Ingredients=the product was made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients and the remaining 30% cannot be made with GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
In other words, any product that displays the certified organic seal means that the product you are buying is made with organic ingredients and cannot be produced with or exposed to antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, synthetic ingredients, GMOs, or radiation. This also means that anything without the organic seal, can, legally, contain these contaminants that are detrimental to your health. Scary! But everything is FDA Approved, right? When consuming food or using a product that is not certified organic, or certified by another agency like those I discuss here, you are exposing yourself to a number of toxic chemicals that studies have shown to be carcinogenic or to cause a number of other health issues. Many people believe that going organic is not necessary since the FDA must approve all of the products are on store shelves and would never approve something that could cause cancer . . . right? It might come as a surprise to many people that the FDA regulations are frighteningly lax in many of their regulations. The FDA does not monitor or regulate food additives that have been proven by some studies to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). This means that even when there are conflicting studies about the safety of a substance, the FDA will regard it as GRAS and therefore does not need to be regulated at all. In other words, FDA approved foods can contain ingredients that have been proven in some studies to increase your risk of cancer and other diseases.
For example, it is stated in a 1983 study done by the National Research Council Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer that “there has been no requirement to perform tests to determine carcinogenicity for most substances added to food” and that “of the additives that have been tested, those shown to be carcinogenic when administered orally to laboratory animals are generally prohibited from use. However, there are some exceptions. For example, Congress has passed special legislation (P.L. 95–203) preventing the FDA from restricting the use of the artificial sweetener saccharin, even though it has been shown to induce tumors in test animals (U.S. Congress, 1977).”
Surely there have been more recent studies that prohibit ingredients that cause tumors in lab rats from being added to human food? For the most part, no. In a 2007 report from the FDA reported that they will continue approve aspartame as safe for human consumption, even though a study done in Bologna, Italy found it to be carcinogenic. This is just one example of many that can be found which show the FDA allowing additives in food and medicine that are potentially, and proven, to be detrimental to our health.
Clearly, the FDA is not to be completely trusted to ensure the quality of the food that we consume. The burden, then, falls to the consumer to educate themselves and make informed choices on what food to buy and products to use in order to best preserve our health and wellness. This is no easy task, and takes a fairly substantial amount of research about everything we come in contact with on a day to day basis, from food and cookware to personal hygiene, cosmetic, and cleaning products. Collecting as much of that research and putting it into one place, is exactly what this blog is all about.
My top 7 reasons for going organic are:
1. Avoid Toxic Chemicals and Pesticide Residue Eating organically, as well as using organic makeup and hygiene products, is literally the only way to avoid exposure to the cocktails of chemical poisons present in many of the products on store shelves. Hundreds of chemical additives are intentionally added to food or are added during the production process. The majority of these chemicals have not been tested for long-term health effects before being deemed “safe.”
Pesticides, aka poison used to kill weeds and insects, are applied on crops in commercially grown food in America but are strictly forbidden for organically farmed produce. The amount of chemical residue from pesticides that are in non organic foods is substantial. Because of this, we have already accumulated a build-up or pesticide exposure over the years due to exposure through our food, personal care products, and even air and water pollution. This is referred to as a chemical “body burden.”
The burden our bodies are trying to manage is known to lead to health issues such as weakened immune systems, headaches, birth defects, and other reproductive issues. Even at low amounts, pesticides have proved to increase the risk of cancer, leukemia, brain tumors, and breast and prostate cancer in particular. This risk increases substantially for children and fetuses. Yet, the use of these pesticides is still legal. It is estimated that the majority of the pesticide residues we consume comes from meat and dairy. Livestock that eats foods sprayed with these chemicals retain the toxins in their muscle and fat tissue, which we then ingest. When it comes to produce, the FDA only tests about 1% of foods for this pesticide residue, which makes going organic the only way to avoid ingesting poison.
2. Steer Clear of GMOs GMO stands for genetically modified organism. In the United States, there is no legal requirements to label food that is genetically modified. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding how unethical it is to prevent the consumer from knowing what type of food they are putting into their body, but that is to explore further in another post. GMO food had lab-replicated genes from other animals, plants, even viruses in order to give it new characteristics such as a different, brighter color, larger size, be resistant to some insects or heat/drought. Animal studies have showed that GMO foods may lead to problems with the reproductive, immune, and gastrointestinal systems as well as organ damage. Funding for long term studies in humans have not yet be acquired, which makes the affects of eating lab created food with altered DNA strands impossible to know for certain. Since its safety is unknown, but animal studies show strong evidence of potentially hazardous effects, it is a real risk to consume such products. The only way to know for certain that you are consuming food that is naturally grown, rather that engineered in a lab, is to buy food with the organic or no GMO label (keeping in mind that foods with the GMO label may still include harmful pesticide residue and/or antibiotics and hormones.
3.Disease Prevention and Treatment Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician regarded as the father of western medicine, stated, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” Of course eating one apple will not cure anything, but maybe the old “eat an apple a day” phrase isn’t too far off. Conventional farming methods, in the United States especially, if fraught with toxic chemicals, processing, and unethical food quality standards that allow known carcinogens to be put into our foods. A consistent dies of organic foods that are free of these toxins may very well play a large role in preventing the development of certain diseases and disorders simply by limiting our exposure to artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, growth hormones, antibiotics, hydrogenated oils, stabilizers, emulsifiers or bio-engineered genetic modification. In addition, the higher levels of nutritional content in organic foods (see reason #4), provide the body with the proper amount of nourishment required in order to prevent and fight off disease. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that a primarily natural, organic diet might go a long way as preventative medicine.
4. Increased Nutritional Content Studies published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine have shown that organically grown foods have more nutrients–vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and micro nutrients than commercially, massed produced, and processed foods. This is not surprising since organic food is real food. Our bodies are natural and need natural nutrition from natural sources to function properly. The quality of organic food simply cannot be matched in a lab. Further studies have proven in a comparison between organic and non organic vegetables, those that were grown organically naturally contain an adequate daily allowance of vitamin C, where as the non organic variety do not. So while organic food costs more, at least you are paying for real food with the nutrition your body needs to function and to fight off disease.
5. Avoid hormones, antibiotics, and other synthetic drugs Conventional farmers use a combination of growth hormones, antibiotics, and other synthetic chemicals to push livestock to increase their size at a faster rate than is possible naturally. These additives are ingested or injected into the animals and make their way into their tissues, which we then eat. The overuse of antibiotics in particular has lead to an epidemic of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This puts your health and the health of the whole world at risk as it forces us into a never ending race to develop antibiotics stronger and faster than the evolution of the bacteria.
There is some evidence that the added growth hormones, such as those commonly added to cows or salmon, increase the production of IGF, an insulin-like growth hormone that mimics the effects of the human growth hormone. Hormones are fat-soluble and can be stored in fat tissue, meaning that when we consistently ingest these high levels of hormones, they can accumulate to potentially hazardous levels. This is concerning for anyone, but especially for women, given their naturally higher body fat percentage. Breast lumps, which can become cancerous, are thought to be caused by imbalanced hormone levels, and thus represents one of the devastating consequences to our health from ingesting unnaturally high level of hormones. 6. Reduced Environmental Impact Organic farming is farming in harmony with nature. Because organic farming does not allow pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals to be sprayed on crops, there is no toxic runoff to contaminate water or harm wildlife, insects, birds, soil, etc. This allows all natural organisms in the area to play their natural role in the ecosystem, unaffected.
7. Better Tasting Food
Because organic food is grown naturally and has higher levels of flavor-enhancing nutrients, the food tastes exactly how nature intended it to. And that natural flavor is actually a whole lot better than foods pumped full of artificial flavor or those with chemical residue!
Despite the evidence, many people hesitate to buy organic food and personal products due to the increase cost of buying natural, toxin free items. Cost can be 10% to 50% more than its conventionally produced counterpart. So the question becomes, is it worth it?
To me, after spending three years caring for and then losing someone that I loved to cancer, the answer is a resounding, yes! But that is a decision that everyone must make for themselves.
Sources: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/general-info/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.html https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK216714/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK216712/ https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm208580.htm https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/top-reasons-choose-organic-foods