Organic or conventional? This is the question that plagues shoppers as they stand in the grocer’s produce section trying to discern if the extra money is really worth the organic label.
Organic produce is more flavorful and more enjoyable than conventional produce. Large, sweet and juicy organic strawberries have an amazing burst of flavor and after eating one, it’s difficult to resort back to the small, tasteless, dry, conventional counterpart. I have found this to be true of nearly all fruits and vegetables.
After many years of debate over whether organic food is actually healthier or not, a four-year British project recently concluded in October that organic foods contain more antioxidants and less fatty acids. Cattle that were fed organic food produced milk containing 50-80 percent more antioxidants than normal milk. Organic wheat, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce contained 20-40 percent more nutrients than non-organic.
In July, a 10-year American study concluded that organic tomatoes contain 79-97 percent more flavonoids than conventional tomatoes. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant that reduces high blood pressure, lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. Antioxidants also help prevent cancer.
But how can you know beyond the label if it’s organic or not? First and most important, you’ll know by the taste that it’s organic. Second, the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates organic foods. Produce must be grown without the use of: conventional pesticides, fungicides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation, food additives and genetic modification. For organic meat and animal products, the animals are raised without routine antibiotics and without growth hormones.
Buying organic also benefits the environment. Unlike conventional farms, organic farms don’t release synthetic pesticides that endanger wildlife, therefore better sustaining diverse ecosystems. Organic farms typically use less energy and produce less waste.
Without the artificial preservatives of conventional food, the food cannot be shipped as far to the grocery stores. Organic food is fresher and supports the local community. Without needing to be flown and driven from all over the world, less gasoline pollutes the air during transportation from the farm to the store. This also makes some foods seasonal treats, such as berries, sweet potatoes and pomegranates. Having seasonal foods tantalizes the taste buds rather than maintaining the same boring palate year-round.
Some foods can be shipped farther than others. Be aware that “organic” means different things to different countries. For example, Cuba promotes genetic engineering and still considers the food “organic.” According to the Food and Drug Administration, “Genetically engineered foods are produced from crops whose genetic makeup has been altered through a process called recombinant DNA, or gene splicing, to give the plant a desirable trait.” Basically, produce becomes a Frankenstein-like science experiment that mixes not only different sorts of produce together but can also include other sources, such as fish or pig DNA.
Genetically engineered foods do not require additional labeling, which is unfair to all consumers, but especially those with food allergens, religious diet restrictions, vegetarians and vegans. To avoid genetically engineered foods, consumers should purchase organic food from the United States and other countries that forbid genetic engineering in their organic crops.
Produce should not have to come with an ingredients label. Any food that goes through processing to add preservatives and other unhealthy additives, as conventional food does, significantly loses vital health benefits. Living in a nation where many of our main diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease can be largely prevented with diet and exercise, buying organic foods is like nature’s preventative healthcare solution.
Despite the price, world organic food sales have been increasing by about 20 percent annually. The health, nutrients and environmental benefits are worth it. Companies only sell what people are willing to buy. Go organic.