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Family Fitness: Are organic foods better?

Posted by Bert on 3/28/2013 to Family Fitness

The 411 on Organic Foods

Organic foods, non-processed whole foods, raw everything; it’s a rising trend in today’s American culture but does it really make a difference in your health and the health of your loved ones? The cost is higher. In fact just the other day at my local Target grocery store a head of broccoli was $1.29 and the organic head was $2.99. My question has always been whether or not it actually mattered if something was organic or not. I have a lot of friends that are whole food, organic eaters and I trust their decision but the skeptic in me wanted to know if it was just a currently “cool” thing to do or if we should all be doing it because the organic produce was more nutritious.

First off, to understand whether or not organic really is necessary for you and your family we need to know what organic produce means. According to a CNN blog called Eatocracy, organic food is defined as, “…grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering, and relies on natural or mechanical methods, rather than prohibited chemicals, for pest control. Simply put - it needs to be as natural as possible.” Since the USDA is a government agency there are certain qualifications that a farm has to pass in order to have their crops considered as USDA certified organic. Also not only does the farm have to be certified but the handlers and processors have to be certified as well! That’s a lot of certification to do which is one of the main reasons why the price is elevated. What I found really interesting is that a farm can still produce organic crops and sell them without the label of “certified organic” as long as their gross income does not exceed $5,000 of organic sales. Meaning what you’re paying for when you buy USDA certified organic is the process of being labeled USDA organic.

What does this mean then when you’re shopping for your produce? And is organic produce more nutritious than conventional produce? According to one major study(actually it’s the first and most reputable study conducted with the intention of answering this question) the answer is yes it does make a difference, however, as with most unconventional trends there are smaller studies that have disproved their findings. “The magnitude of the differences in nutrient levels strongly favored the organic samples. One quarter of the matched pairs in which the organic food contained higher levels of nutrients exceeded the level in the conventional sample by 31% or more,” the report written by author Charles Benbrook explains. It is important to note that this same study was conducted only on tomatoes and did not include any other kind of produce. Another study conducted at Stanford found no patterns that showed organic produce was more nutritious than conventional produce. I could go on and on about the different studies that have been done on this but that wouldn’t be very helpful because it all boils down to the same conclusion that most of them make: there needs to be more data looking at specific nutritional information and the studies need to be conducted for a longer period of time. In fact, that tomato study I mentioned above is one that is supposed to take 100 years before it is complete!

I liked what I read on The Salt, an NPR blog, “…When it comes to their nutritional quality, vegetables vary enormously, and that's true whether they are organic or conventional. One carrot in the grocery store, for instance, may have two or three times more beta carotene (which gives us vitamin A) than its neighbor. That's due to all kinds of things: differences in the genetic makeup of different varieties, the ripeness of the produce when it was picked, even the weather.” The short answer, in my opinion, is that any produce you buy in the grocery store may be more nutritional than another but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with whether or not a crop is organic. If you’re choosing to eat organically because you dislike the pesticides and other chemical agents that may be used on crops of fruit and vegetables that’s great and you should continue to do so if it works for you and your family.

If you’re like me, feeling a little guilty about buying conventional produce so much so that you’re getting to the point where you don’t want to eat any produce for fear that the conventional stuff won’t be nutritious enough and even poisonous or that the price of the organic stuff will eventually break your bank account then stop worrying about whether or not something is organic. It’s still nutritious even if it’s not organic and you should still eat produce and feed it to your kids for the basic nutritional value that’s there.

Also, remember that not every piece of produce that you buy will have a USDA certified organic label but it still may be grown organically. That just means that the farm has decided to forego the lengthy and expensive process of earning that label. Look into having your own garden or buy into a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Visit the farmer’s markets in your area and shop for your produce there. Be educated on where your food is coming from and don’t feel like you have to buy the organic label in order for your food to be nutritious!

Bio: Bert is a stay at home mom of two, wife to college sweetheart, and what she calls a "semi-crunchy" mama. After four years of being overweight related to pregnancies, Bert submitted a video entry into a local Biggest Loser type of fitness challenge; she was chosen and lost 25% of her body weight in 90 days. She blogs at FirstTimeMom about everything from cloth diapers, parenting, life and her recent passion with health and fitness.