Archive for the tag - organic

Study: Organic Produce Has More Antioxidants, Less Pesticides.

??One of the more hotly contested nutrition issues is whether or not organic foods are better for your health.

When it comes to nutrient content, the research is mixed. A Stanford study concluded that there’s probably not a nutritional advantage to organic foods. Meanwhile, other studies have found otherwise. Organic milk, for example, was found to have higher levels of beneficial fatty acids.

This week, a large new study is making waves in the debate over conventional versus organic foods. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Newcastle University, examined more than 340 peer-reviewed studies that examined conventional versus organic crops. Based on the data, researchers found that organic produce contains 19% – 69% higher concentrations of certain antioxidant compounds. Researchers also found that organic produce contains lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides.

Of course, researchers don’t know if those higher concentrations of antioxidants translate to health benefits – or if they’re even absorbed by the body. And when it comes to pesticides, it’s important to remember that the amount of pesticide residue left on produce is limited to levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency. These levels are considered safe by the government, but many consumers aren’t willing to take the chance.

Are organic foods better for your health? It seems that the debate will continue. However, one thing is certain: Most of us need to eat more fruits and vegetables, organic or otherwise.

Dirty Dozen: High Pesticide Produce.

Tomates_cerises_Luc_ViatourWe know that eating fruits and vegetables is good for our bodies – and that most of us don’t get enough produce. But when it comes to pesticide contamination, not all produce is created equal. In fact, the Environmental Working Group publishes a yearly guide listing the top twelve fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residue.

The guide isn’t to dissuade consumers into eating fewer fruits and vegetables. Instead, it’s to help us make smarter decisions about our produce. If you’re concerned about pesticide exposure, then these are the most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic.

This year’s dirty dozen includes:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hot peppers
  7. Nectarines – imported
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers

Though not technically making the dirty dozen list, domestically-grown squash and leafy greens (specifically kale and collards) were found to be contaminated with especially toxic pesticides.

While organic produce may not necessarily be higher in vitamins and minerals, many consumers are concerned with pesticide use and contamination. In the United States, the amount of pesticide residue left on produce is limited to levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency. These levels are considered safe by the government, but many consumers aren’t willing to take the chance.

If you are concerned about pesticide contamination, opt for organic when it comes to the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables.

Are Cage-Free Eggs More Nutritious?

Free_range_chicken_flockWhen you go to the market to pick up eggs, you’ll see labels like cage-free, free-range and organic. It begs the question: What do these labels really mean? And are any of these eggs healthier than others?

Before we talk nutrition, let’s cover the different types of eggs you’ll encounter.

Standard Eggs

These are the inexpensive eggs that most consumers purchase. In fact, 97% of eggs purchased in the United States fall into this category and are laid by hens living in battery cages. While this method of egg farming is cheap and efficient, the conditions for hens are poor; cages are very crowded and hens never see the outdoors.

Cage-Free Eggs

Most people are surprised to learn that conditions for cage-free hens aren’t much better than those experienced by battery cage hens. Though these hens don’t have cages, they usually live on the floor of a barn with little room to move – though it can be different from farm to farm. These hens have perches and some nesting materials. It’s also worth noting that there is very little oversight for cage-free claims, so the actual farm conditions may vary from the packaging.

Free-Range Eggs

These hens experience the highest quality of life, and usually have access to nesting boxes, perches and the outdoors. Because these hens are less tightly controlled and the process is less efficient, free-range eggs tend to be quite pricey.

Organic Eggs

The USDA defines organic eggs as coming from hens who were fed no antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts. In order to quality for the organic label, the diet fed to the hens must have been grown on land that hasn’t used toxic or chemical pesticides and fertilizer for at least three years. Organic does not mean that the hens were treated particularly well, nor does the USDA require organic eggs to be from cage-free or free-range hens. Having said that, most organic egg producers raise cage-free hens.

So which eggs are the healthiest? According to at least one study, there are no nutritional differences among the different egg types. Nonetheless, moral questions persist and each of us must decide how we want our food treated.

The best bet is to find a local farmer who sells eggs. Visit his or her farm. See how the hens live. And then decide for yourself.

In the comments below, let me know which type of eggs you buy and why!

New Study: Organic Tomatoes Are Healthier!

organic_tomatoesWhile organic farming practices are certainly good for the environment, there’s been little evidence to show that organic produce is any healthier. In fact, with the exception of organic milk, the vast majority of research has found no link between organic food and nutritional or health benefits.

Even the American Cancer Society found no link between organic foods and reduced cancer risk:

At this time, no research exists to demonstrate whether such foods are more effective in reducing cancer risk than are similar foods produced by other farming methods.

Having said all of that, a recent study by researchers at the Federal University of Caera in Brazil found that organic tomatoes are higher in vitamin C and antioxidants than conventional tomatoes. Though smaller in size, organic tomatoes had 55% more vitamin C and 139% richer in antioxidants. In other words, the organic tomatoes may be smaller in size – but they’re of higher quality.

One theory suggests that because organic farmers don’t reduce environmental stress through pesticides, the tomatoes fortify themselves with higher levels of nutrients.

Still, it’s just one study against a myriad of studies that demonstrate otherwise – and it’s impossible to apply the findings to all tomatoes, fruits or vegetables grown elsewhere in the world. But it may help breathe new life into the nutritional case for organic produce – and provide some justification for the higher prices when compared to conventional produce.

What Produce Numbers Mean.

Ever notice those produce stickers on the fruits and veggies that you buy at the grocery store? As it turns out, the numbers on those so-called PLU (short for “price look-up”) stickers actually tell you a whole lot.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • 4 digits: If the code is four digits long, then the item was conventionally grown. For example, 4139 designates a conventional Granny Smith apple.
  • 5 digits, beginning with an 8: If the five digit code begins with an 8, then the item was genetically modified (GMO). 84139 refers to a genetically modified Granny Smith apple.
  • 5 digits, beginning with a 9: If the five digit code begins with a 9, then the item was grown organically. A code of 94139, for example, indicates an organic Granny Smith apple.

While the PLU codes aren’t universal, the system is used in the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand. In addition, any imports to these countries are also tagged accordingly – regardless of the country of origin.

While the debate over whether or not to eat genetically modified or non-organic food is beyond the scope of the article, using the PLU code is an easy trick to quickly categorize the produce that you buy.

Do you prefer buying organic produce over genetically modified or conventional produce? Let me know in the comments below.

Which Meat is Healthiest?

Which meat is the healthiest? Chicken is the obvious answer – but it’s not always true.

While organic, pasture-raised chickens are extremely healthy, most of the chickens sold in modern supermarkets are raised differently. Today’s chickens are grown with increased fat and decreased protein. In fact, according to researchers at the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University, today’s chickens contain 266% more fat and 33% less protein than chickens from 1971.

In the same way, today’s conventional cows are fattier than ever – thanks, in part, to their diets of corn and supplements. Grass-fed beef, on the other, not only tastes better – but also has improved nutritional content. Grass-fed beef has lower overall fat, lower saturated fat, an increase in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lower cholesterol and more vitamins.

Next, we must consider the cut of meat. A chicken leg, for example, has 3x more fat than a serving of London broil. Chicken legs, thighs and wings are high in fat; the breast meat is low in fat. Leaving the skin on also increases the fat content. Sirloin steaks and flank steaks tend to be very lean. If opting for pork, tenderloins and loin roasts are healthier options.

When selecting healthy meats, pay attention to how the meat was raised and the cut. If available, read the nutrition information. Though chicken often wins out, you may be surprised!

Is Organic Milk Healthier?

Got milk?

We’ve talked about the differences in organic vs. conventional foods, and that people often mistakenly assume that organic means healthy. It doesn’t. You can find organic variations of almost any food – and it’s not an indication of calories, fat, sodium, etc.

Moreover, numerous studies have found that organic produce doesn’t contain any increases in vitamins or nutrients. And the consumption of organic foods doesn’t change a person’s risk of disease or illness – including cancer.

Because organic foods are grown in a more eco-friendly manner, this is the true motivation for buying organic. Even if it doesn’t benefit your human body, organic products benefit your extended body… this planet.

But what about organic milk? What does the research show?

A European Union-funded study by Newcastle University compared 22 milk brands sold in supermarkets. After crunching the data, researchers found that organic milk had lower levels of saturated fat and increased levels of beneficial fatty acids. In fact, the study’s lead researcher noted that individuals could cut saturated fats in milk by 30% – 50% simply by opting for organic.

Why? The cows that produce organic milk have diets richer in grass – whereas conventional cows typically have access to grass during summer months (if at all). Conventional cows typically consume grain and supplements. Other studies have verified the link between grass-fed cows and healthier milk.

While many people avoid milk in their diets altogether, the research does suggest that switching to organic milk is a smart way to cut saturated fats and increase your intake of desirable fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants.

Is Grass-Fed Meat Any Healthier?

Where's the beef? Here's the beef.

A few months ago, we looked at a number of studies that compared organic and conventional produce. The term “organic food” refers to food grown without most artificial fertilizers or pesticides and in a way that emphasizes crop rotation. Organic farming makes the most of natural fertilizers and ensures that the life of the soil is maintained.

The studies suggest that organic produce is not any richer in nutrients than conventional produce. Moreover, and somewhat surprisingly, the studies don’t show any longer-term health benefits including reduced cancer risk. While organic produce may not be healthier for the human body, it is unarguably much better for our extended body: Planet earth.

Today, let’s switch gears and look at grass-fed beef.

First things first, grass-fed and organic are not interchangeable terms. Not all organic beef is grass-fed, and not all grass-fed beef is organic. For one, grass-fed cows could graze on land that has been treated with fertilizers or pesticides. So, check the label if it’s important to you.

Decades ago, all beef was grass-fed. But industrial farmers discovered that grain-based diets could improve the efficiency of their farms. Cows that are fed diets of grass grow slowly; it may take 4 – 5 years until the animal is ready for slaughter. By feeding cows a diet of corn, antibiotics (cows can’t consume corn without them), hormones and protein, today’s conventional cows are slaughtered after just 14 – 16 months. Holding ethical questions aside for a moment, are there any research-supported differences in the nutrient content of grass-fed vs. grain-fed meats?

Yes. According to a report in the Nutrition Journal, it turns out that there are a number of differences:

  • Lower fat content. Grass-fed meat is lower in overall fat and saturated fat. A sirloin steak tested from grain-fed cows, for example, had more than double the total amount of fat compared to a grass-fed cut.
  • Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy and essential fatty acids are more prevalent in grass-fed beef. Grain-fed cows have only 15% – 50% of the omega-3 fatty acids found in grass-feed beef. It’s worth noting, however, that omega-3 fatty acids in grass-fed beef are still much lower than some other foods like salmon.
  • Lower dietary cholesterol. Though dietary cholesterol has a relatively small impact on blood cholesterol, individuals with cholesterol concerns should take notice.
  • Increased vitamins A, E and antioxidants. Grass-fed beef is a better source of these important nutrients.

Grass-fed beef has other benefits, too. For one, it has a greener environmental impact. Growing corn requires a tremendous amount of fossil fuel. In addition, grass-fed beef is also less polluting as the animal dung is used as fertilizer for the grass.

In my opinion, grass-fed beef also tastes better. It has a different, more authentic flavor that I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate.

And of course, the ethical implications of industrial farms vs. pasture-centered farms can’t be ignored to a conscious eater. If you are what you eat, I’d much prefer an animal that lived its life on a real farm – and didn’t spend its existence pumped full of drugs and knee-deep in its own feces. But that’s just my two cents.

When I shop, I generally only buy grass-fed beef. The price is significantly higher – but I think it is worth it – even it means eating meat less frequently.

But what do you think? Have you ever tried grass-fed beef? Do you prefer it? Do you think it’s worth the difference in price?

Are Organic Foods Healthier?

Ryan Phillipe, dressed as a farmer, could milk me any day.

This afternoon, I was doing some grocery shopping in my local supermarket. I found myself in the store’s “health food” department, which is really just a few small isles of organic products. I had to laugh the the department’s title, as so many of the organic foods were anything but healthy – including soups loaded with sodium, fat filled burritos and, my favorite, double chocolate chip cookies with 18 grams of fat each.

For many people, the label of “organic” signifies some nutritional benefit. This is a myth; the terms “organic” and “healthy” mean two very different things.

The term “organic food” refers to food grown without most artificial fertilizers or pesticides and in a way that emphasizes crop rotation, making the most of natural fertilizers and ensuring that the life of the soil is maintained. Animals are kept in ways which minimize the need for medicines and other chemical treatments.

In the United States, use of the term “organic” is heavily regulated – and fairly expensive to obtain. Some of the foods you buy from local growers at a farmer’s market are likely organic, though the farmers probably lack the resources to apply for the official certification. At any rate, organic refers to the way in which the product was grown – and not its nutritional content.

Some research has been done to determine if organic products do contain more vitamins and nutritionally desirable compounds. In other words, does an organic orange contain more vitamin C than it’s conventional counterpart? The official jury is still out – studies are still inconclusive on the subject – though most expects will say no. Surprisingly, studies also don’t show any longer term health benefits, like reduced risk of cancer, either. This is a conclusion refuted by organic food advocates.

So, if you want to buy organic food, research would suggest that you should do it for your extended body (this planet) and not your immediate human body. And don’t be fooled into thinking that organic products are healthy, just by virtue of being organic.

Are you a big believer in organic products? Why or why not?