Are Organic Foods Worth it?

The organic food market in the United States hit $45.2 billion up from
$26.7 billion in 2010.

But let’s get right to the point; is organic food better, yes or no?

I think the answer is yes and no.

Allow me to explain.

The word “Organic” unlike the word “Natural” actually means something in food production.

Foods containing plant-derived substances like sweeteners, for example, can be labeled natural. List of “natural” labeled foods include; highly processed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  and foods containing genetically engineered or modified (GMO) ingredients. Although far from an exhaustive list of what can be labeled a “natural” food, these are a few examples of how “natural” may mean something different than you think.

Organic vs. Natural 

Unlike the word “natural” which is not regulated, the label “organic” is. Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, which led to the National Standards on Organic Agricultural Production and Handling rule in 2000. Today the organic industry is regulated by The National Organic Program (functions within the USDA).

So, when a food is labeled “organic,” it has been deemed so through a federal approval process that regulates the food so that it has;

  1. no genetic engineering (no GMO)
  2. no synthetic pesticides or fertilizer
  3. no antibiotics or growth hormone and
  4. has not been irradiated

The word “natural” when applied to meat, poultry, and eggs, is regulated by the FDA, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stating that a “natural” food contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed.  “Natural” in meats, poultry, eggs, etc does not mean hormone or antibiotic-free.

The “Organic” label for livestock products means the food they eat is organic (as defined above) plus with the freedom to move around, have access to fresh air and sunlight.

Here’s the catch; you can eat organic beef where the animal’s feed before sacrificed for food eats organic corn and soy, not grass. A healthy diet for cows is grass and hay, not corn and soy, even if organic. 

That’s why if you eat beef, it should be grass-fed, not only organic. (A post on grass-fed beef coming soon)

Are Organic Foods Better? 

The higher cost for organic foods might be worth it.

Organic food is seemingly more nutritious; contain more protective antioxidants, contain 4 times fewer pesticides and lower amounts of unhealthy metals like cadmium.

While not everything that’s labeled organic is healthy or local, buying organic produce, especially the dirty dozen foods (really dirty 15)  may be worth the extra buck.

Like I tell my patients; don’t be cheap with your food. 

OK, that’s nice that organic food has more anti-oxidants and less unwanted chemicals in them, but is it healthier for you?

Yes it is.

A recent study from the Journal American Medical Association (JAMA) showed an association with less cancer risk and the consumption of organic foods.

This study looked at close to 70,000 adults for nearly five years and showed that those who ate more organic foods had a 25% lower risk of getting cancer.

Three possible culprits were discovered to be associatedto cancer risk in pesticides used to spray food crop: glyphosate, malathion and diazinon.

My Thoughts on Organic Foods

Based on my unlimited hours of research, my observational experiences and general common sense, to prevent or manage cancer, or simply prevent from dying prematurely from any sickness, you want to do these things;

  • Avoid crap from entering your body as much as possible. That includes pesticides and herbicides.
  • Move your body as much as possible. That includes focused physical training but not limited to that. Sit as least often as possible.
  • Eat mostly plants and good quality fish. But not too much of anything. Not eating for extended periods (intermittent fasting), say 12-16 hours a day seems to be a good thing.
  • Sleep well. If you struggle here, this link may help. Also, do a sleep study to check the quality of your sleep.
  • Judicious and targeted use of dietary supplements complements clean eating, physical movement and good sleep habits – it does not replace them.
  • Breathe deep and diaphragmatically. This is a simple and inexpensive way of managing stress.

What to do about Organic foods

While I promote organic food, especially those most contaminated with pesticides and herbicides (See dirty dozen – actually dirty 15 foods), I realize not all organic food is good for us.

For example, organic packaged dry products such as cookies, and breads, etc. are still crappy foods.
Bad food is bad food – the organic does not always make things healthier. A

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Eat local foods from nearby farms or farmers markets if they are local and organic – great. If foods are not labeled organic, it still might be, but small farms are reluctant to play the political “organic” game.
  • Don’t be fooled. Just because something is organic doesn’t necessarily make it better for you. Packaged organic products are NOT healthier.
  • Real organic foods – are natural foods (right from nature), with organic farming practices and if possible, from a local farm.
  • Eat good quality, wild caught fish as the primary animal source
  • With vegetables, organic is certainly better. But, don’t use this as an excuse to avoid non-organic vegetables. If for whatever reason you don’t have access to organic vegetables, non-organic vegetables are better than no vegetables
  • Again, don’t be fooled. Just because something is organic doesn’t necessarily make it better for you. Packaged organic products are NOT healthier.

Be the first to get my updates,
research findings and clinical takeaways.