Organic vs Non-organic

As a naturopath and nutritionist I come into contact with people who are looking to improve their health and well being. And the way I help them primarily is by fixing up their diets, prescribing nutritional and herbal supplements. Recently I was interviewed by a masters student investigating the question of whether it is really worth buying organic food. See some of my responses below:

What sorts of things do I suggest?

  • Increasing water
  • Introducing organic fruit, vegetable, meat, and other animal products like eggs
  • Reducing dietary toxins in the diet such as caffeine and alcohol
  • Assessing individual nutrient deficiencies through blood tests and diet diaries
  • Reducing sugar and excessive carbohydrate consumption
  • Eliminating trans fats from the diet

Why do I suggest these things?

The old saying “we are what we eat” holds a lot of truth in my opinion. My nutritional advice starts with simple suggestions as I had mentioned earlier, and once patients have grasped the basics I encourage them to move towards a more organic food based lifestyle.

The main reasons for this is due to the less man handling of the food. It is closer to the nature intended it to be. Plant crops will not have been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Animals will often have been pasture fed (which means they freely roam eating foods that are meant to be eating like grass (instead of corn and grain), and skin care products won’t have as many synthetic chemicals (similar to those used in petrol).

In my experience many people have heard about organic food, and tried eating it here and their, but often haven’t made it part of their daily lifestyle, why?
  • it’s expensive and seen as a premium product
  • it’s not as widely available as conventionally farmed foods
  • it goes off quicker (due to the lack of pesticides)
  • There aren’t as many pre-prepared organic meals which is important for many busy, working people.
Australian soils are becoming more deficient of many minerals (such as selenium and iodine) which  are both important for various biochemical purposes in our body. Selenium is one which Australia has been lacking in for many years, and is vital for the healthy production of sperm. Iodine is another mineral which the Australian diet lacks, and is needed for healthy thyroid function. Many foods are now fortified with nutrients to make sure we reach the recommended daily intake. Organic foods generally come from smaller lots of land which are less likely to have been over harvested. There fore the nutrient levels in the soils should be higher. This is something which to my understanding is a particular example of organic foods having higher nutritional levels than conventional commercially produced foods.

 

From a nutritional perspective – what is organic food?

Organic food is food which has had little chemical intervention in the planting, growing, harvesting, and packaging, prior to consumption. It complies with the standards of organic farming practices and is the type of food our forefathers would have eaten. Nutritionally it does contain higher levels of nutrients, but more importantly the body’s ability to process the existing nutrients is easier than processing foods which have been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and the like.

When did I first start to hear the term ‘organic’?

I grew up in the inner west in Sydney. My parents have always been interested in fresh food, and multi-cultural cuisines. So we would often get our fruit and vegetables from a farmers market where the stalls advertise “organic food”. Also my father has worked in mining and shipping industries (for over 30 years) and has vast knowledge of what happens when foods are grown (primarily crops) in a commercial agricultural setting. And also when foods are shipped in from overseas the chemicals which are used to irradiate them and kill off any bugs that could become problems in Australia. But I have worked in various health food stores around sydney and been able to speak to suppliers of organic food companies and find out what makes them organic. In the last 6 or 7 years there has certainly been an increase in the availability and popularity of organic food.

Why do you recommend the consumption of organic food?

I recommend organic food because there has been less chemical involvement with the food. This applies to animal products (like meat and dairy) as well as fruits and vegetables. Organic foods haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, dipped in wax, frozen, and then thawed out. They have been picked from a tree, washed, and then sold in a shop, or at a market. It’s simpler that way, and nutritious food should be simple. When there are numerous chemicals covered on/in the foods then the body has to work on eliminating those toxins. If the toxins aren’t there to begin with then your body doesn’t have to cope with removing them. It’s as simple as that.

Organic vs Non-organic testing inconclusive?

Organic food and conventionally grown food generally have similar nutrient profiles when looked at. An apple from an organic orchard, and an apple from an orchard which uses sprays will still contain 15g sugar, and small amounts of vitamin A and C, but its what the body then does with those nutrients and how it accesses them which is important. In my experience many people with digestive issues lack the ability to assimilate nutrients and then use them for metabolic functions, this could be from the waxes and chemicals which are on the foods. In my experience as a nutritionist by asking my patients to consume organic fruit and vegetable, a lot of their digestive issues aren’t as bad. And this is purely because the body doesn’t have to deal with detoxifying the rubbish which is on the exterior and part of the interior of the food.

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I can’t say that I eat 100% organic food. I eat out at restaurants that don’t use organic produce. But the foods that I buy and cook with at home are about 90% organic, and for my own peace of mind I am much happier eating organic. Not only because the organic food is more therapeutic, but because I’m avoiding a lot of the nasty stuff that is in the non-organic food. There are usually a couple of things I notice when I buy organic food: the smell is fresher (especially meat), the taste is more complex and earth, the colours are more natural, and the foods are generally more succulent as they contain naturally higher water content.