If you needed another reason to avoid conventionally-grown produce and factory-farmed meat, here it is: we now have measurable proof that organic produce and grass-fed meat are better for you. Oh, and so are free-range eggs and milk from grass-fed cows. Not that most of us needed convincing. But for your friends and neighbors who may pooh-pooh your commitment to eating real food, this research might be just the ammunition you need.
It’s no secret that conventional produce is covered with pesticides and a surprising amount of it is also GMO. This includes a lot of fruits and vegetables that you might not expect. Things like tomatoes. And potatoes. Squash and beets, among others. Not all varieties are GMO, of course. But with 10 different strains of GMO tomato and 6 of GMO potato, it’s a good bet that we’re all eating some GMOs if we’re not buying organic.
A study from the University of Newcastle, however, says that there’s yet another reason to buy organic. One that even the pro-GMO crowd might be swayed by.
Organic produce and meat is just plain better for you.
The results are in, and organic is the clear winner
You wouldn’t know it if you only follow the mainstream news, but the University of Newcastle in England really gave us some breakthrough science last year. While our own industry-funded researchers were tweaking molecules to create the next blockbuster drug for Big Pharma, the Newcastle scientists were doing really useful things, like finding a way to reverse type 2 diabetes without drugs. But somewhere in their busy schedules they still found time to do this study. As a firm supporter of organic farming, I’m delighted to see it.
There’s been a fair amount of research comparing organic and conventional produce through the years. For this meta-study, researchers combined the data from 323 other studies. They found that organically grown fruits and vegetables had substantially higher levels of antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds than conventionally grown ones — as much as 69% more in some cases. Antioxidants are credited with a huge variety of health benefits, from protecting against free-radical damage to anti-inflammatory properties.
Of course the organic food also had less pesticide residue. Since pesticide-free is part of the definition of “organic,” this shouldn’t be surprising. It’s a good fact to have on hand, though, for those who aren’t convinced that there’s any real difference between organic and conventional. One find that was surprising, however, was that organic produce had much lower levels of the heavy metal cadmium. Nearly 50% lower, in fact.
This may be irrelevant. It may also be very important — it remains to be seen. Cadmium exposure through other means such as occupational exposure or smoking have linked this toxic substance to serious health problems. Cadmium can affect nearly any system in the body, and some of the effects include cancer, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.
The deterioration of our health has mirrored the rise of chemical-based farming. Do chemical differences in conventional crops — such as high cadmium levels — contribute? Studies are being planned to look into this, but for now it’s an unanswered question.
Got milk? Let’s hope it came from grass-fed cows
Newcastle continued its winning streak this spring, with a study comparing factory-farmed animal products to their grass-fed and free-range counterparts. This too was a meta-study, and included 196 studies on milk and 67 on meat. It was the biggest study of its kind to date.
The results were striking. Organic milk and meat had twice the omega-3 fatty acids of conventional animal products. Omega-3s are the brain- and heart-protecting substance found in salmon and fish oil supplements. Most of us don’t get nearly enough of them, and adequate intake is linked to lower rates of heart disease, dementia, and diabetes among other things. Organic milk also had lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which most of us get far too much of.
But the nutritional differences didn’t end there. Organic milk and meat had more vitamin E. They had more iron. They had higher antioxidant levels. And they had 40% more linoleic acid, which is linked to better insulin sensitivity.
And of course they didn’t have the high levels of antibiotics and hormones we see in factory-farmed animals. Nor were they exposed to GMO feed.
Why do some “experts” STILL ignore the truth?
This wasn’t exactly front-page news even though it should have been, but the articles that did appear have tried to downplay the findings. Incredibly, when these studies came out some “experts” were quick to point out that there wasn’t much difference in the vitamin content of organic and conventional food.
Statements like “Such small changes are unlikely to represent any nutritional or health benefit,” attributed to nutrition professor Ian Givens, appear in every story. In spite of the clear differences between organic and conventional food, there’s been a concerted effort to keep us eating the same old conventionally-grown crap with its pesticide load and antibiotic taint.
Don’t buy into this. The facts speak for themselves.
Organics have more antioxidants. More omega-3s. Less heavy metal. Less pesticides and antibiotics. And the benefits go beyond that. Organic is better for the soil, better for the animals, and more energy-efficient. It takes less water. And it has real flavor. All that makes it worth the higher price tag, in my opinion.
Here’s what I suggest:
- Buy organic when you can.
- If you have to pick and choose only a few items, choose carefully. Go organic on fruits, leafy greens, tomatoes, and peppers.
- If you can’t buy organic, look for “GMO-free” labels. Labeling isn’t mandatory, but some companies are doing it voluntarily.
- If something says “natural” on the label, don’t be fooled. “Natural” means nothing.
- Don’t be fooled by “cage-free” egg labels either. Like “natural,” cage-free doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. Look for “free-range” instead.
- If you’re buying milk, look for “organic.” You may also see “antibiotic-free” or “hormone-free.” These aren’t the same, but they’re definitely better than nothing.
- Buy grass-fed beef and pastured or free-range poultry if possible.
Organic IS more expensive. Don’t beat yourself up if an organic-only menu is out of your budget. Instead, try to avoid the “dirty dozen.” This is a list of the 12 most pesticide-laden foods on the market as analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, a consumer watchdog group focused on toxic chemicals.
Remember — you really are what you eat. Eat as well as you’re able.