I remember in 8th grade when the “Organic Food Bonanza” hit the Eberly household. My mom had been chatting with friends, reading articles, working with a holistic nutritionist, and the change came in HOT. We went from Doritos, orange PB crackers, welches fruit snacks, Snyders honey mustard pretzels and sugar-laden cereals for all-day-snacking to organic mozzarella cheese balls with organic tomatoes, organic hummus with crackers, organic cereal, organic EVERYTHING. Not going to lie, I hated every minute of it at first haha! My brother and I would make fun of my mom for it, (remember when you bought organic Q-tips, mom?) but it was such a gift to have her doing what was best for our family to keep us as healthy as she could.
Looking back at that time, I’m insanely grateful. My mom was the very first spark that lit the nutrition-passion in my heart. I didn’t always think Organic foods were worth the cost or worth the hype, and you might be thinking the same thing today. Is it really worth it?
I’ve been working in the holistic nutrition space for over 3 years now and one thing I’ve learned about pretty much every question I get or any question I have personally, is that the answer is usually: It depends.
When it comes to Organic vs. Conventional foods, we need to make a few things clear before we can say ultimately which is better and if organic is really worth the cost and the hype.
Conventional foods are fruits, vegetables, food products, etc. that have been genetically modified or sprayed with synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, etc.
Organic foods are fruits, vegetables, food products, etc that have been grown/cultivated without man-made pesticides, chemicals, growth enhancements and additives.
You can tell simply by looking at these definitions that these two different types of food cultivation are pretty darn different from one another. You might already have an opinion one way or another based on what you think is “right” or “wrong” just by looking at the stark differences here.
Some people believe conventional practices are harmless- that the evolution and use of pesticides, growth hormones, GMO’s , etc. are beneficial to our growing population and that these foods have no effect on our overall health as humans. In contrast, some people believe the complete opposite- that these foods are detrimental to our overall health and are a lead contributor to cancer, hormone imbalances, digestive issues, autoimmunity, and so much more.
The reality is- we never really tested these man-made products on humans before we started spraying them all over our food, genetically modifying our seeds, and so forth. Pesticides hit the scene post-WWII during the “Chemical Era” after DDT became popular to use in order to kill off insects that carried communicable diseases such as malaria, typhoid, etc. DDT was hailed as the “miracle chemical” because it helped save so many lives. Likewise, we started using these new chemicals on our farms once we realized it had the ability to produce a higher crop yield by killing off unwanted pests. According to Bill Ganzel:
“Between army ants, grasshoppers, corn borers and a horde of other bugs, farmers in the Midwest were fighting a never-ending battle against insects. On the West Coast, orchard growers had been using arsenic compounds like Paris Green to keep insects from destroying their crops, and they had gotten into trouble when arsenic residues showed up on apples and pears in the America, Britain and other countries. Agricultural groups had been fighting a running battle with muckrakers and reformers who wanted to place severe limits on the amount of pesticide residue that could be found on food.
DDT seemed to bypass that entire debate. Thousands of returning GIs [from WWII] could demonstrate that the powder didn’t seem to hurt human health. It was cheap and amazingly persistent and effective.
DDT also showed chemists the way to develop other insecticides and herbicides. The chemical was formulated by taking simple carbon-based molecules, like methane, stripping out one or more hydrogen atoms and replacing them with other compounds. Very quickly, chemists were developing new classes of chemicals to killed insects and weeds.
One of the first and most important was the weed killer – or “herbicide” – known as 2,4-D. It was developed in 1944.
So, as the war ended, a new chemical age began, and farmers were the main reason for the new age. By 1952, there were almost 10,000 separate new pesticide products registered with the USDA under a brand new law. Then, as today, agriculture uses 75 percent of all pesticides. Between 1947 and 1949, pesticide companies invested $3.8 billion into expanding their production facilities. They were rewarded by huge profits.
Many historians have called this the golden age of chemical pesticides – effective new chemicals were available and of all of the risks and dangers to human health and the environment were not yet known.”
Fast forward to today, and there’s been a huge push back on conventional foods.
We want to know what’s in our food!
I think that’s pretty fair, right? Several studies showed that pesticides could cause health problem such as birth defects, nerve damage and cancer and water pollution. In contrast, multiple other studies show that organic varieties do provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods. While being higher in these nutrients, organic foods are also significantly lower in nitrates and pesticide residue.
According to Dr. Josh Axe, “Some of the chemicals used to grow non-organic foods are actually called obesogens. These chemical compounds are known to disrupt hormonal systems and actually make it harder to lose weight.The truth is that more than 3,000 high-risk toxins, including pesticides, are, by law, excluded from certified organic products. And third-party testing and inspections hold farms accountable to this standard.Certified organic also means that there’s no irradiation or human sewage sludge; no synthetic fertilizers or prohibited pesticides — and no genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”
The clear answer, in my mind, when asked which is the healthier option: Organic Foods. The science is simple.
The trick here, though, is that Organic is usually more expensive than Conventional.
I’m asked all the time- “Is it worth the extra money to buy organic?”. If you can afford it, yes- organic would be my suggestion. But what if you can’t afford to buy 100% organic 100% of the time? What if you don’t have access?
Two big things I tell my clients are this:
- Stay away from the “Dirty Dozen” when buying conventional: these are the top most pesticide laden foods (picture below)
- Buy organic produce that you will be eating the ENTIRETY of. Ex: bananas are less important to buy organic vs apples because you will be throwing out the thick peel of the banana, but consuming the entire apple- skin and all.
- If you can’t find organic near you, try to find a local farmer you can build a relationship with and learn what their farming practices are- some local farms aren’t labeled or certified “organic” but their practices may be much better than the supermarket produce down the street.
- Check out Natural Grocers and see if there’s one near you! Natural Grocers has the HIGHEST produce standard of any grocery store. They have a 100% Organic Produce Standard.
In Natural Grocers own words, “It’s not just about the Dirty DozenTM to us, it’s about every piece of produce. It’s about the health of our waterways, the health of our soils, the health of farmers and farm workers, the health of the birds and the bees, the health of our neighbors, our friends and families, the health of our children, our children’s children, and the next generations to come. These things matter, they matter an awful lot and we care a whole awful lot. That’s why we sell only 100% organic produce… not 95%, not 80%, not 50%, not 5%. We do not fund conventional agriculture and all its associated destructive problems one little bit. When you buy your produce from us, you are saying NO to synthetic pesticides, genetically modified (bioengineered) organisms (GMOs), polluted waterways, and dying soils. We are proud to take this stand for the health and wellbeing of our communities and to be the change that we ALL want to see in the world.”
This is one of the many reasons I shop at Natural Grocers here in Denver, CO! I know they’ve done the work for me and I can trust the food I’m putting into my body and feeding my family.
*This post is sponsored and paid for by Natural Grocers, a local grocery store I visit frequently and truly love! All opinions are my own.