Organic Decoded

Does buying organic even matter?

I used to buy organic food for about 2 months a couple years ago when I had first started paleo but then I read a book by one of the foremost paleo experts and he said buying organic really didn’t matter, so I stopped and thought nothing of it. Now I know there is a big difference between organic and not organic.

Whenever I talk about organic food with someone I almost always get a similar response, “did you know lots of organic food really isn’t organic.” I don’t know where this rumor started but for any food to be able to call itself organic it must be certified organic. If you want to ensure it’s certified you can look for the logo of the certifying body (most common in Canada and US are below)

Canada organicUSDA-seal_BxW

In order to be certified organic, farms need to be independently inspected to verify they meet all of the necessary standards. The standards are rigorous; including a minimum distance the farm must be from other non-organic farms, the farm must have the paper work to show the origin of their seeds; they also examine the history of the land and what it had been used for in the past. All of this is done to keep the integrity of the organic certification in place and provide high quality products to consumers.

The Key, Soil Quality:

Plants get their nutrients from the earth through a symbiotic relationship with the organisms in the soil. Without healthy soil, the plants can’t get the nutrients they need. The plant is then susceptible to disease and pests. Then when we eat the nutrient deficient plant, we don’t get all the nutrients we need, making us nutrient deficient and more susceptible to disease and illness. Therefore, the key is soil quality; the population is only as healthy as the soil. By taking care of the soil we take care of us!

Mother nature is very smart; if an organism is nutritionally deficient that is where pests and disease will attack because the immunity is lower. Mother nature wants only the strongest of the species to survive so they can go on and thrive. This is not only true for plants but also for us too!

Conventional Farming’s impact:

Before I get into more detail on organic farming I should start with talking about conventional farming. Conventional farming is done using the technology of today, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides to make their crops grow.

There are many problems with conventional farming, one of the biggest being the impact on the environment. The chemicals used (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) can leach into the ground water and soil polluting the area.

In terms of soil quality, most conventional farming does nothing to improve it. The use of fertilizer becomes necessary to grow crops since the soil becomes depleted of nutrients. Most fertilizers are composed of three elements Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus. The plants are given only three elements when in fact plants need 17 essential nutrients to thrive.[1]

The plants are able to grow from these three elements but grow up nutritionally deficient and weak. As discussed earlier when the plants become weak they are susceptible to disease and pests, making herbicides and pesticides a necessity to protect the crops. Herbicide and pesticide residue can then be found on the food you eat.

To give perspective on just how many chemicals (herbicides and pesticides) are used in our food system, in the United States, more than 1.2 Billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides are sprayed or added to food crops every year.[2] That’s about 5 lbs of chemicals for everyone in the US! The average person consumes a gallon of pesticide in a year from their fruits and vegetables. Pesticides exposure is associated with depression, memory decline, asthma, eczema, migraines, IBS and many more health related issues.[3]

The companies that produce these chemicals through testing set what levels are safe for human consumption. “Safe” in their eyes and mine are much different things. Studies have also shown that pesticides may be hundred times more toxic in combination with other pesticides then alone. When these pesticides are tested they are not tested with others to see the reaction, which is a glaring hole in the safety standards. Since there are maximum allowed levels for each pesticide often more then one are used on produce allowing them not to go over any of the maximum level for any individual one. What we end up with is a highly toxic chemical cocktail on our food.

You may be thinking I just wash off my produce anyways so its ok, right? Not so fast, tests with potatoes, apples and broccoli have shown that between 50 and 93% of pesticide residues remain on produce after washing with water.[4]

Why Organic?

Organic produce is grown using nutrient rich soil. Farmers use a variety of techniques to keep the nutrient profile high (ie. crop rotation, adding manure not filled with antibiotics, etc.). Due to the soil the plants are grown in, organic produce has more nutrients on average then non-organic produce.[5] Meaning you will become healthier!
Organic food also tastes better! I couldn’t believe how much better fruits and vegetables tasted when I went organic, it really is amazing. Even a simple dish of roasted vegetables in coconut oil with salt and pepper go from being blah to being ah yum when you use organic produce. The added nutrients in the food make them so much more flavourful and delicious!

The chemical levels of organic produce are also lower due to very strict levels set by the certifying bodies. “Consuming organic foods is a good way to avoid agricultural chemicals” Elson Haas.[6] Studies have shown that you can actually lower the amount of pesticides (aka toxic chemicals) in your body by adopting an organic diet.[7]

Organic also means its automatically non-GMO! (More on GMO foods at a later date) I would highly recommend avoiding all GMO products.

Organic produce is a healthy option for you to consider investing in. I personally have noticed an improvement in my energy levels, mood and sleep after I switched to an organic diet.

Buying Organic:

Support your local organic farmers by checking out your local farmers market. There is typically at least one organic farmer at every market. If you’re in Toronto check out the Toronto Farmers Market Network (TFMN) to see where the closest one is to you (I’ve posted the link at the bottom of the post).

Buying all organic all the time can get pricy. The environmental working group (EWG) put out a list every year of the cleanest conventionally grown foods (Clean 15) and the dirtiest (definitely buy these foods organic!), you can find the links below. Even though buying organic can get expensive, the investment in your health is most definitely worth it!

Organic food that is processed needs to be at least 95% organic for it to be called organic. Even though it may be 5% non-organic, that is much much better then 100% non-organic.

The bottom line is buying organic is good for you, your family and the planet. We vote with our money and every time you buy something you vote for the kind of world you want to live in, so lets vote for a clean, healthy world, full of smiles! 🙂

Josh

List of Toronto Farmers Markets
Dirty Dozen
Clean 15

References

1. http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edcomm/pdf/CIS/CIS1124.pdf
2. Michael Murray & Joseph Pizzorno, The Encyclopaedia of natural medicine 
3. Patrick Holford, Optimum Nutrition Bible
4. Patrick Holford, Optimum Nutrition Bible
5. http://www.panna.org/sites/default/files/Nutrient_Content_SSR_Executive_Summary_FINAL.pdf
6. Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition 
7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18414640