Making a commitment to healthy eating is a great start towards a healthier life. Beyond eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and good fats, however, there is the question of food safety, nutrition, and sustainability. How foods are grown or raised can impact both your health and the environment. This brings up the questions: What is the difference between organic foods and conventionally grown foods? Is “organic” always best? What about locally grown foods?
There is now plentiful research findings that show that organic food – fruits, vegetables and grains – are far superior in vitamin, mineral and nutrient content, whilst, at the same time, are much lower or missing the harmful herbicide, fungicide, pesticide and artificial fertilizer chemicals that are present in non-organic produce. They are especially higher in antioxidants, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus, and lower in nitrates, and pesticide residues. Studies have shown that organically grown produce has less significantly lower levels of mercury than that grown by chemical farming methods.
Antioxidants are critical to human health. They keep free radicals, which can lead to cancer, under control. They also are immune system boosters and have anti aging properties. It has been shown that organic food is significantly higher in antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. The research suggests that pesticides and herbicides disrupt the production of these protective compounds, and that good soil nutrition appears to increase the levels of these natural compounds.
Organic foods have higher levels (up to six times) of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is produced naturally in plants as a protective compound against stress and disease. Salicylic acid acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps combat hardening of the arteries.
Organic food production is free of antibiotics, anti-microbials, hormones and other growth promotants. Similarly, the processing of organic food must be free from the use of synthetic chemicals as preservatives, colourings, antioxidants etc.
Many studies have shown that conventionally farmed foods carry a cocktail of synthetic poisons, with pesticide and other chemical residues. Most living organisms now carry residues of synthetic human-made chemicals, and scientists are starting to understand the detrimental effects of even minute amounts of these artificial toxins. Children are more susceptible to adverse effects from even minute amounts. Many of these chemicals disrupt the hormone, nervous and immune systems. Further evidence of this can be seen in the escalating increase of certain types of cancers such as lymphoma, breast, uterine and prostate
cancers and leukemia, that have been linked to chemicals used in agriculture. Research has also found strong links between these chemicals and the dramatic increases in autoimmune diseases such as asthma and chronic fatigue syndrome.
One of the human impacts of conventional farming practices is the high nitrate content of food and drinking water. This has been caused by the use of soluble chemical fertilisers. Leafy vegetables can have the highest concentrations. When fertilisers are leached from agricultural soils the nitrate level in some drinking water systems increases. Nitrates can impair the ability of the blood to carry oxygen, and may pose a risk of methemoglobinemia. Once in our body nitrates can be converted to nitrosamines which are carcinogens. The nitrate content of organically produced food is usually significantly lower than in non-organically produced food.
Research shows that organic food has significant health benefits because it has negligible chemical residues and pathogens and has higher nutritional values when compared to conventionally produced food.
The benefits of buying organic produce extend to encompass our ecosystem, and not just our physical health:
- Organic is good for the soil. Organic farming is based on scientific understanding of soil science and ecology, and on traditional knowledge of crop rotations etc.
- Organic places emphasis on animal welfare. Organic does not use synthetic growth hormones or drugs.
- Organic aims to reduce dependence on non-renewable resources and aims to ensure sustainability.
- Organic produce has superior taste and smell.
- Organic uses no synthetic chemicals and therefore doesn’t pollute the environment.
- Organic does not use GMOs. GMOs are prohibited in the BFAs standards for organic food and farming.
- Organic means there is no BSE (mad cow disease) in animal herds in full organic management.
Enjoying the benefit of fish
without harmful side effects
Fish is low in saturated fat and can be a good source of high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other essential nutrients. Yet common toxins such as mercury are also found in fish. What does this mean? How much is okay? Which fish are safe?
Each year dangerous quantities of mercury are emitted into the air (an aspect of widespread industrial pollution). When it rains, this pollution goes into our lakes and oceans where it contaminates the fish and shellfish that live there. Eating fish contaminated with mercury, a poison that interferes with the brain and nervous system, can cause serious health problems. The top predators, such as sharks, contain the highest levels of these contaminants. Nursing mothers, pregnant women, and young children have the highest risk, so should avoid all large fish (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, etc.).
In recent years there has been a huge decline in many species of fish, caused by unsustainable fishing and farming practices. This means that if changes are not made soon, many wild populations of fish may become extinct.
Sustainable seafood choices
Seafood can be part of a healthy diet if you know what type of fish to choose. There are a number of smartphone apps and downloadable wallet-cards for you to keep on hand to use in the grocery store or a restaurant. These guides are updated often and contain the latest information on healthful and sustainable seafood choices.