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Important reasons to choose organics for your good health

30 Oct 2015 3:13 PM -

I was recently asked (by a doctor) for my opinion as a naturopath on whether eating organic food was important for your health. Nutrition is not her area of expertise so she was keen to know my thoughts.

The benefits of eating organic food are often debated and it can be really overwhelming to know what to do and where to start. It’s very easy to just say it’s all too hard or too expensive and not bother. So let’s see if I can give you some clarity and a plan of attack you can tailor to your own needs, time and budget.


What are the health benefits of choosing organic food?

  • Higher levels of phytochemicals – these are the anthocyanins, carotenoids, flavonoids, isoflavones and more which naturally occur in plant food. Many of these are found in plants because they are the plant’s natural defence against pests and environmental hazards. Since organic food is not sprayed with pesticides they have higher levels of these phytochemicals which have been shown to have numerous health benefits from boosting our immune system to lowering cholesterol and preserving health.

  • Higher levels of vitamins and minerals – there is mixed research on this aspect as some studies have shown there isn’t a significant difference in vitamin and mineral content in organic vs conventionally grown food although other studies have shown superior nutrient content particularly in amounts of vitamin C and selenium in plant food as well as omega 3 fatty acid levels in meat.

  • Less pesticide exposure – there are numerous studies measuring pesticide levels in children and adults. A recent Australian study showed a 90% reduction in organophosphate pesticides levels (as measured in urine) with only one week of switching to a mostly organic diet.

  • Food packaging (eg tinned or wrapped products) can be a source of bisphenyl A (BPA) and phthalates. One study showed a 66% reduction and 55% reduction respectively in levels of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals after just 3 days of eating fresh organic food and avoiding packaged food.

  • Growing food organically increases the diversity of the soil microbiome which has also been shown to have health benefits in humans, particularly with regard to immune health.

  • Choosing organic food when possible reduces the overall chemical burden on your liver, making its job just a little bit easier.


Other benefits of eating organic food

  • Taste – have you ever noticed how tasteless some of our produce grown in hothouses is? Tomatoes and strawberries are just two that come to mind. Every time I buy organic I am reminded of how food should taste…full of flavour. This is more likely when the food has been grown under natural conditions in a rich soil. Similarly, with organic meat, it just seems to be more tender and tasty (some argue that this is due not only to what the animal eats but how it’s treated and the effect that has on its stress levels and hormones).

  • Environmental benefits – organic food is more likely to be grown locally thereby reducing food miles. In addition, the growing of organic foods incorporates more sustainable farming methods which result in less depletion of soils.

  • More humane treatment of animals.

 

The ideal world of eating organic food...

So, in an ideal world all our food would be organic, grown in rich soil or fed on healthy pastures. Grown with the unadulterated water of alpine springs, picked just before it is needed for your next meal. But in reality, I don’t know anyone who lives in this ideal world….certainly not me and not any of our naturopathy clients here at the clinic.

Most of us live in the real world, where we don’t have the time or space to grow all our own food so we must resort to buying what others have produced. Then comes the question of money. Most people need to watch their budgets and make choices around how they allocate their hard-earned cash.

Furthermore, some of us just don’t have access to organic food. It’s just not available in their local supermarket, they don’t have a local market or they simply don’t have the ability or time to get to where the produce is.


So how do you make healthy, organic food choices?

  1. If you are a meat eater, prioritise organic cuts. Remember, you don’t need a lot….100 grams of a lean, organic cut of beef for example beats 250gm of fatty feed-lot raised mince every time. So aim for quality not quantity and increase the number of meat-free meals in your week.

  2. Chemicals and other toxins are often fat soluble (i.e. they accumulate in fat) so, if you can, choose organic eggs and dairy (or opt for low-fat dairy).

  3. Familiarise yourself with the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15” lists of fruit and vegetables. These lists (which come from the USA but in all likelihood apply to Australia too) show the least sprayed and most sprayed crops. I am more inclined to buy organic versions of the “dirty dozen” when I can and I am not so concerned about buying organic versions of the “clean 15” as they have the lowest pesticide levels.

  4. As a general guideline, when choosing fruit and vegetables, the thicker skinned produce will generally require less pesticide spray (because it is harder for the bugs to get through the skin)

  5. Wash all fruits and vegetables regardless of whether organic or not.

  6. Shop seasonally when produce is at its finest, most abundant and most economical.

  7. Buy fruit in bulk and preserve it.

  8. Eat as low on the food chain as possible. For example, that means smaller fish are likely to have less toxin accumulation than large fish. Avoid the large, carnivorous fish.

  9. Choose unpackaged food when possible (yes, this can be tough if you are shopping at a supermarket).

 

The effects of chemicals, plastics and other packaging, pesticides etc on our health are not clear and we are a long way from having agreement but there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that they are a problem. 

Personally, I think it is worth acting now rather than waiting for all the evidence to come in. My approach is to adopt the precautionary principle whenever I can (without being obsessive about it). I see no harm in this and only benefits.

I do think it is worth allocating as much as you can afford to organic produce when you can. Some weeks/months might be harder than others and that’s ok. Just do what you can do and over time the benefits will accumulate.

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If you are concerned about your health and the effects of your dietary choices, why not book a consultation with Lee or myself. Let us put your mind at rest and help you develop a plan of attack that you can happily live with.  Call the clinic on 03 9620 9503.

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If you enjoyed this article you might also like:

The value of organic food

Environmental toxins - what you need to know for good health

25 achievable tips to avoid toxin exposure


In good health,


Kaye Wright
Naturopath
Melbourne CBD

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