2 Crucial Benefits of Eating Organic
Better for You, Better for All of Us
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the concept of organic started to become popular and the term became a market buzzword. If you’re here (or most anywhere), you’ve probably heard of organic food. And you may have even heard it is better. In the United States, 68% of consumers perceive organic food to be safer than conventional food. Are they right? Let’s break down two of the biggest benefits to eating organic.
Benefit #1: Eating Organic is Better for Your Health
Much of the research about organic food shows that organic food is safer, better, and healthier for you—less because of what it has, and more because of what it doesn’t have. Organic products are less harmful than conventionally grown crops. To be considered organic, most foods need to be grown free of:
- Fertilizers that are synthetic or made from sewage sludge
- Synthetic pesticides
- Irradiation as a preservation method, and
- Antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock.
In general, organic foods contain significantly less of the many toxic chemicals used in industrial farming.
For example, a commonly used herbicide, Roundup, has been labelled as a probable human carcinogen, while certain chemicals in insecticides have been connected to developmental delays in infants. Numerous studies have found baseline levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children, and this has been linked to the prevalence of ADHD in children and reduced sperm quality in men.
These are just a few of the potential dangers of pesticides. Many studies link pesticide use to all kinds of health problems, across ages, genders, and races. Farmers and farmworkers are particularly at risk, so much so that they are required to wear protective equipment when applying chemicals. If these chemicals are meant to kill pests, and are so toxic they must be handled with special protective gear, it seems likely that they would be harmful to humans as well.
Organically grown crops are less likely to contain detectable levels of pesticides, and because of differences in fertilization techniques, they are also 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium, a heavy metal that accumulates in the liver and kidneys.
Organic meat products come from livestock that are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, and are fed organic foods that are natural to their diets, rather than other animal byproducts. Everything that is fed to or injected into the animals, as well as the outcomes of their living conditions and well-being, is passed along to the consumer.
But is Organic More Nutritious?
There are a lot of claims that organic food is actually healthier for you, and there are plenty of arguments against it as well. Most of the health benefits of eating organic food come from the reduction in harmful toxins; however, some studies show that some organic foods may actually have more nutrition as well. Researchers found that organic onions had about a 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally-grown onions.
What about meat and milk? Eating organically raised meat and milk may provide a better balance of fatty acids in our diets. Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, so we must get them through our diets—often from meat and milk products. Ideally, we should have about a 1:1 ratio of the two omegas. The typical western diet, however, has a ratio closer to 15:1, a bombardment of omega-6 acids and low omega-3 acids, which are the unsaturated, healthy fats. This imbalance has been linked with several common health issues such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, osteoporosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Organic meat and milk products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products, and therefore may be helpful in balancing these omegas.
Benefit #2: Eating Organic It Is Better for the Planet
Agriculture is a huge industry. It is also one of the most important; we all eat food. Agriculture isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it can evolve. Eating organic is better for the planet, because it supports healthier, more sustainable growing practices.
Soil Health, Biodiversity, & Algal Blooms
Adding compost, using cover crops and mulches, and limiting tillage—basic principles of organic soil management—increase and preserve organic matter. Soils rich in organic matter hold more air and water and produce higher yields than soils low in organic matter. They also supply a steady release of nutrients to plants, inhibit erosion, and host a robust population of beneficial microorganisms. Soils from organically-managed farms typically have higher numbers and more diverse populations of beneficial soil organisms than soils from conventionally-managed farms.
In general, the more biodiversity there is on a farm, the more stable the farm is. Organic farming encourages healthy biodiversity, which plays a critical role in determining a farm’s resilience, or lack thereof, to issues like bad weather, disease, and pests. Reduced biodiversity may directly correlate to a rise in infectious diseases, which of course is not good for people or the planet.
Algal blooms (HABs) occur when the perfect conditions occur for blue-green algae, a bacteria, to flourish in oceans or freshwater, killing off other life forms and using up the dissolved oxygen in the water. The result is a dead area where many fish and other aquatic life cannot survive. Some species of algae produce neurotoxins, which may have severe biological impacts on wildlife, as well as humans. The phosphorus and nitrogen in many petroleum-based fertilizers used in conventional farming, which travel to our waterways, lakes and seas in rain and runoff, help create those ideal conditions for algal blooms.
More organically grown food with fewer fertilizers and other chemicals will reduce these bursts of algae and the harm they do to our waters.
Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial is North America’s longest-running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture. The trial, running since 1981, has shown that a healthy organic agricultural system can actually reduce carbon dioxide and help slow climate change. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations also promotes organic agriculture as a way to mitigate climate change. Organic agriculture could lead the way in reducing energy consumption through carbon sequestration, lower-input of fossil fuel-dependent resources, and expanded use of renewable energy.
There are many more benefits to choosing organic products, but two huge ones are the fact that eating organic is better for your body and better for our planet. It’s easy to see how often choosing what is better for the planet is also better for us. We are not so separate after all.