Is organic really worth it?

February 27, 2012

Fruits and Vegetables, Health, Organic

Organic and locally grown foods are gaining popularity, not only in Phoenix, but all over the United States.

by Dr. Paul Stallone — 

Organic and locally grown foods are gaining popularity, not only in Phoenix, but all over the United States. This is good news, since eating organic food is often the initial step toward better health.

The ambiguity of what qualifies as organic, coupled with skepticism about the benefits versus the perceived higher costs of organic food products, can leave many of us feeling confused. The following is intended to help clarify and define why, in the long run, organic foods are superior to nonorganic foods, and to discuss the general benefits of a healthy fruit- and vegetable-rich diet.

Organically farmed and natural foods

Organically grown foods are raised without synthetic chemicals and contain no genetically modified organisms. Emphasis is placed on maintaining high soil quality, which is achieved by refraining from the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the growing process. Quality of soil is directly related to food tasting better and being more nutritious, and its ease of storability.

Livestock raised by organic farmers are not injected with drugs, such as hormone implants and antibiotics. Organic livestock are fed an all-natural diet and, in the case of poultry, are often raised in an open environment, hence the term “free range.” In the U.S., beef only qualifies as organic if the cow was both born and raised under organic farming practices. Animals converted from nonorganic to organic farms may not be sold under an organic label.

Phytochemicals

Plants produce a vast amount of natural chemicals. These are often referred to as plant secondary metabolites or phytochemicals. The released phytochemicals come from a plant’s biological response to stress (much like our own bodies produce chemicals for the same reason), as well as a lack of nutrition and threatened attacks from predators. The most common phytochemicals take the form of antioxidants, vitamins (C, E), resveratrol and polyphenols. Phytochemicals are among the many benefits of a healthy diet comprised of plants.

Antioxidants and polyphenols

The two most-documented phytochemicals (antioxidants and polyphenols) are the beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables. Both organic and nonorganic fruits and vegetables contain these chemicals. Research indicates, however, that organic farming methods can increase polyphenol content by 25 percent. Over time, this boost of antioxidants and polyphenols offers immense health benefits. Antioxidants include ascorbic acid, melatonin and vitamin E — all free radical blockers, essential to good health.

Antioxidants derived from plant compounds are vital to health and graceful aging because they prevent oxidation — a chemical reaction that produces free radicals. The free radicals in our bodies are responsible for damaging healthy cells, which can lead to early or accelerated aging, sagging skin and even cancer.

When we are young adults, antioxidants and polyphenols encourage healthy development. As we age, our bodies’ antioxidant production is depleted, so the more natural antioxidants we take in through foods and beverages, the more we can offset the wear and tear of aging. Organic foods are simply better because they are more nutritious and keep us in fighting condition.

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is the most studied phytochemical, due to its fountain-of-youth-like benefits. These include life longevity, anti-inflammatory properties, control of glucose levels, reduction of bad cholesterol and the prevention of amyloid beta plaques in the brain (which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease). A great way to incorporate these benefits is by consuming foods from the Mediterranean diet, which includes many fresh fruits and vegetables. Recommended sources for resveratrol are grapes, cranberries, blueberries and peanuts, as well as red wine (in moderation). Again, the added benefit of eating organic is an increase in beneficial phytochemicals.

Organically farmed tomatoes show significantly higher levels of flavonoids, lycopene and vitamin C. Organic spinach tested from 27 different growers indicated a large decrease in nitrates (nitrates can carry a carcinogenic compound that depletes oxygen and CoQ10 levels in the blood), compared to spinach grown using nonorganic methods. Organic soil fertility methods have been discovered to allow plants to generate higher levels of phytochemicals, making for a healthier plant and a healthier human.

Some of us may have reservations about going organic, due to conflicting information we have heard or the higher costs involved. A slow incorporation of organic foods and a gradual elimination of conventionally produced fruits, vegetables and meat products is a good place to begin. The benefits of eating healthy simply by incorporating vegetables, legumes and fruits in moderation far outweigh any extra costs, and this is particularly true when it comes to long-term health.

And for those who think that healthy food can’t taste good, I suggest trying one of the new restaurants that specializes in organic and locally grown food — you might find yourself surprised at just how tasty healthy can be.

 

Paul Stallone, N.M.D., founded the Arizona Integrative Medical Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. He combines natural, alternative and conventional treatments to best fit and benefit each individual patient’s needs. www.drstallone.com or 480-214-3922.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number 6, Dec 2009/Jan 2010.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Web Analytics