Clean Foods: Are Organics Better?

Clean foods, or organic foods, are better for multiple reasons.

Research continues to come out indicating that the nutritional quality of organic food is no different than that of conventionally grown food, but it’s not as black and white when you dive into the details and realize there are other important health related factors to consider.

It’s a big media topic every time a new research article comes out about how there’s no difference in the nutritional value of organic versus conventionally grown food.  Unfortunately, the focus of discussion usually stops there and the public gets more confused about whether they are throwing money away by going organic.

Clean Foods Definition:
USDA Certified Organic vs. Sustainable Eco-Farming

Most people only think about conventional versus organic farming and don’t understand what the USDA certified organic seals means or that “organic” farming can mean more than USDA certified…and that there are health implications.

Let’s start with what the USDA certified organic seal tells you (meaning it has the seal).

Organic seal on produce: no use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers; no use of genetically modified seeds (GMO); no use of fertilizer derived from sewage sludge; no irradiation of seeds.  Organic seal on multi-ingredient foods: the product has 95% or more certified organic content. Organic seal on live-stock: use of certified organic feed only(cannot be genetically engineered, fertilized with sewage sludge, irradiated, cannot contain animal by-products or grown with chemical pesticides or fertilizers); no use of antibiotics or hormones; animals cannot be routinely confined and must have access to pasture, and treated in ways that reduce stress. The organic seal also indicates that the grower has been inspected to ensure that they are following these rules.

While its true that most research indicates that there is no significant difference in nutritional value between conventional versus USDA organic, there are significant differences in soil nutrients, the nutritional value of produce and live-stock and soil/plant microbial diversity with sustainable eco-farming.  And there are eco-farmers out there.

What’s the difference between USDA organic and sustainable eco-farming practices? While both don’t use synthethic or chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and GMO seeds, sustainable farming also includes the use heirloom seeds, encourage plant biodiversity, maintain crop rotation practices and limit soil tilling.

Clean Foods: Healthy Soil, Healthy Bodies

Soil health means better health for plants, for live-stock and for humans that eat the plants and/or live-stock.

The improved soil nutrition from sustainable farming improves the nutritional and microbial quality of plants.  There is a link between microbiotic diversity derived soil/plants and human health.  Healthy gut microbiota is critical to maintaining our overall health.

Remember that USDA certified organic live-stock can still use grain feed (certified organic) and only needs to give access to pasture.  This is a much better deal than conventional feedlot live-stock get, but grass fed AND finished live-stock are even healthier.  Here again we see the healthy soil, healthy plants, healthiest live-stock connection.  Grass feeding and finishing improves the nutritional quality and safety of meat. 


Environmental Toxin Exposures and Health 

The same research that shows minimal nutritional differences between organic, clean foods and conventionally grown food does show lower pesticide exposure in organically grown foods.  Exposure to pesticides has been linked to negative health effects such as, fetal toxicity and certain cancers.  It was once thought that only farm workers and those living close to agricultural communities were at risk (and they are at high risk), but current evidence extends potential health risks to the general population exposed to pesticides.  Some indicate that your pesticide exposure from food is miniscule... nothing to worry about... but, what if we add up all the potential toxins that you are exposed to daily?  And there are alot.  And what if we add in the fact that some people are more susceptible to suffering health effects from environmental toxins than others, which is true.  And let's add in the fact that there is relevant research linking negative health effects to pesticides and other environmental toxins.  Wouldn't you want to decrease your overall toxin exposure from as many sources as possible?  I would.

Other environmental toxins include: hormones and antibiotics, primarily from meat and milk, in the food supply and possibly gmo foods (for more on gm food crops see my other website pages).    Exogenous hormones, such as from the food supply, can disrupt the body’s own hormonal system and have been linked to adverse health effects such as breast, prostate and testicular cancers.  Conventionally raised meat and milk products have the highest levels of pesticides and hormone disrupting chemicals and in 2011 nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in live-stock.

And Don’t Forget About the Health of the Environment

Organic production conserves natural resources and reduces the pollution of air, water and soil.  Soil biodiversity has positive effects on global warming by lowering carbon dioxide air counts.

Bottom Line:  What to do? 

Eat clean foods! Look for the USDA certified organic seal on produce, animal products and other food products since USDA organic is a better option than conventional food and food products.  If you have to prioritize, I would suggest:

  1. Choose free range, grass fed and finished, organically raised animal products such as, meats and dairy for the nutrient quality and to avoid the highest exposure to environmental toxins in the food supply. Also avoid freshwater fish (or check your state's office of environmental health safe eating guidelines for fish in your area). 
  2. Avoid produce with the highest toxin loads.  Check out The Environmental Working Group’s pocket guide to the 12 fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide exposure.
  3. Choose organic multi-ingredient food products.

Always consider locally grown, organic food. Get to know your local growers and farmers and find out about their farming practices.  The USDA certified organic seal is expensive, and even though your local farmer may not be certified he/she may be following the rules.  You may even have sustainable eco-farmers in your local community!

This is a general guide to clean foods, organics and farming.  A full discussion on farming practices, the soil and health connection, environmental toxins and health effects, etc. etc. is beyond the scope of  this page.  For more information, check out my reference guide and other website pages.

Home > Whole Food Diet > Clean Foods


Some References:  Nestle M. What To Eat, 2006;; The Center for Mind Body Medicine, Food as Medicine conference, 2012; Steingraber S. Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood, 2003, Alschuler L. et al. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 2010;; FDA summary report on Antimicrobials sold for use in food-producing animals, 2011; Breast Cancer Fund, State of the Evidence: The connection between breast cancer and the environment, 2010

Each month I’ll bring you the latest research related to natural healing and nutrition in a way  that will be of use to you.

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