Cooking and eating for health is about tilting the odds in your favor -- and I’m going to take a stand right here and say organic food makes a difference.
As a cook, I was initially drawn to organic ingredients because of the flavor! To my tastebuds, organic fruits, veggies, meats and more are always superior. But there are facts beyond flavor that convince.
There are alarm bells that link back to pesticide use and the excessive hormones used in dairy and the raising of animals, for example, showing up in disease states such as breast cancer and autoimmune disease. The volume of pesticides being used on foods is a genuine stressor. Our body wasn’t built to be able to handle that kind of load.
It’s a HEALTH concern -- a very real one.
Organic is NOT a trend, NOT a fad, although it’s easy to think of it that way because it’s become a marketing term. Let me be clear that I’m talking about produce, fish and animal protein here, not the latest fangled organic processed food. The food industry is looking to take advantage of trends like organic and gluten-free, and I urge you to LOOK PAST THAT, towards the perimeter of the market, to produce and protein, real food, and what our concerns should be about that.
A few among many, many studies and articles providing important information on this topic:
- Foods raised organically, without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, are more nutrient-dense. One explanation: plants grown without pesticides have to work that much harder to survive and thrive, and as a result develop the very nutrients that help us do the same.
- Research has shown that phytonutrients in organic food may doubly benefit us humans by both reducing toxic chemicals in our foods AND mitigating the unavoidable exposures we experience in our environment.
- This 2014 Time article summarizes the evidence that feeding our children organic foods is wise, including this quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity … and chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging.”
In brief, all of us -- adults and children -- should be eating organic as much as possible to promote health and longevity.
The next thing you’re thinking about is cost, right? Like, Rebecca -- this is all well and good, BUT IT’S EXPENSIVE!!!
The good news is that you don’t have to eat organic 100% of the time. Don’t worry about every morsel you eat in a restaurant or at a friend’s home. Just make sure that IF you can, you are buying organic where it matters most.
Enter The Environmental Working Group’s annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ -- the Dirty Dozen™ and Clean Fifteen™ Lists - your compass to eating organically on a budget.
They lay out the must-buy-organic (the Dirty Dozen™, found to have the highest levels of pesticide residues) and the ok-to-buy-conventional (the Clean Fifteen™, with none or minimal amounts of pesticide residues). No need to buy organic avocados, for example, since only 1% of conventional ones showed any detectable pesticides. Save!
It’s curious how this list changes from year to year. Recently, for example, I compared the 2015 list shown above with the 2012 one published in my book The Longevity Kitchen. The 2015 list no longer contains the blueberries or lettuce found on the 2012 list (yay!), but cherry tomatoes and snap peas have been added (boo!). Cauliflower and papayas appear on the Clean Fifteen this year, but sadly, mushrooms and watermelon have disappeared.
And note the red alert on conventionally-grown kale and collard greens.
In recent years, the Dirty Dozen™ list has been expanded to include several produce items of special concern. To quote the executive summary:
“Leafy greens - kale and collard greens - and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.”
Read the full report here including Genetically Modified Crops, Pesticides in Baby Food, methodology and references.
To connect the dots between food and health: make the best choices you can for you and your family’s health.
- Be conscious of the total load of pesticides or hormones you are eating, and keep that load as low as possible.
- Use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides as your produce-buying compass.
- Know that the organic foods you are eating contain more polyphenols and double the amount of phytochemicals, that clean up our cells to help us survive and thrive. The survival toolkit in your organic foods becomes YOUR survival toolkit. WOW! How persuasive and empowering is that!
If you are keenly interested in this topic -- and I hope you are -- I recommend you consider connecting with the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, an international partnership founded at Commonweal in 2002 to strengthen scientific and public dialogue on environmental factors linked to chronic disease and disability.