Lately Organic fruits, vegetables, and even meats have been gaining huge popularity as being more environmentally responsible and healthier than foods produced by more modern methods of agriculture. But what’s the difference between Organic, Non-GMO and other methods, and are they really better for you?
Organically grown fruits and vegetables are grown without the help of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. They tend to be more expensive than non-organic foods because there is less demand for them, they are often more labor intensive to grow and harvest, and they often have lower crop yields.
While chemical fertilizers and pesticides have been used in agriculture since the mid nineteenth century, and indeed are still in wide use today, the effects that these chemicals might be having on the humans who ingest that produce has been a matter of growing concern since the early 1960s. While most cooks are content to simply rinse off their produce before cooking, others are more sceptical and insist on purchasing organically grown food.
A recent study showed that eating organically grown food is no better for you than is eating non-organically grown food, though the study drew some criticism. One aspect of the study that was regularly contended was that the study found the nutrient availability and absorption in both kinds of produce to be identical, but the study said little on the topic of potential negative consequences of the fertilizers and pesticides themselves.
If you are interested in buying organic fruits and vegetables for your family, they can often be found at local cooperatives. If the price here is too much, local farmers markets often sell much of the same kinds of produce for cheaper. This is largely because the growers that sell to cooperatives often take out the produce that may be misshaped or visually unattractive and sell it at a lesser price at farmers markets. Beware, however, as the labeling and marketing of organic foods at stores is strictly policed, while such claims at farmers markets and similar venues are likely to be less strictly enforced, if they are enforced at all.
A final note on organically grown produce involves hydroponically grown produce. Hydroponic produce is produce that is grown in water, rather than in soil. Growing plants hydroponically allows them to be grown indoors all-year round without concern for temperature or soil conditions. While this may seem like a very strange concept, many hydroponic growers are also organic. While soil-grown organic produce is fed with fertilizer from animal waste – manure — or decayed plant matter – compost – hydroponic organically grown foods are often fed with the waste and secretions of fish that live in the water. This is a rather industrious take on the age-old concept of putting a fish in the ground when planting certain vegetables.
At any rate, when it comes to your health, hydroponically grown foods aren’t better or worse for you than other methods, it’s whether they are organic that counts, and even then there may not be any more nutrient value.
A Quick Word on Beverages
Many beverages these days also bear proud labels that they are organic, or contain no artificial ingredients. Be aware that while purchasing these sorts of beverages might be a good way to cut down on the excess chemicals in your life, they are not very likely to be better for you in other regards. Cutting down on artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives as well as pesticides and fertilizers is a wonderful thing, but on a chemical level sugar is sugar. Whether its raw organic cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, your body is going to break it down for calories and either burn it or store it.
Aren’t Antibiotics in Meat a Good Thing?
The term “organic” when it comes to meat means that the cattle was fed organic feed. While this means that chemicals and pesticides fed to plants aren’t accumulating in the meat that you buy, it also means that the cattle was fed more expensive grain, so the meat you buy will probably be more expensive as well.
Other common labels on meat include badges claiming that it does not contain growth hormones or antibiotics. There has long been concern that growth hormones fed to animals may end up in the systems of the consumer, and the same can be said for antibiotics. Antibiotics are often fed to animals both to keep them healthy, and because an abundance of antibiotics can cause the animals to grow larger and faster. It has recently been feared, however, that antibiotics fed to cattle that is ingested by humans may allow certain bacteria to develop a resistance to the antibiotics leading to some nasty infections nicknamed “superbugs.”
What about GMOs?
Another big label these days regards “GMOs,” or “Genetically Modified Organisms.” Those who are in favor of GMOs will argue that humans have been genetically modifying plants for thousands of years. While this is true on the surface, throughout human history this kind of change has been through carefully selecting seeds that grew into plants with desirable traits, cross-pollinating plants, or grafting fruit trees together, none of which are even remotely like modern genetic modification.
Where the above examples are merely taking advantage of nature, modern genetic modification involves removing genes from one species of plant or animal and splicing it into the DNA of another. This can lead to corn that yields higher plants with help from the DNA of a tobacco plant, or strawberries that are more resilient to cold due to having DNA from a lake trout, and all kinds of fantastical combinations.
In the vast majority of cases this has been found to be completely harmless, however there have been reported cases of people with nut allergies having allergic reactions to produce not because the produce came in contact with nuts, but because a nut gene had been used in the hybrid DNA of the genetically modified produce.
Genetically modified foods have a lot of potential to carry greater vitamins and nutrients than their natural counterparts, but there is still some sorting out that needs to be done with this new and promising technology. If you aren’t allergic to anything deadly, chances are GMOs aren’t actually worse for you than natural produce.
In the end, if it’s weight loss you’re worried about, carbs and sugars are carbs and sugars, whether a food is organic, hydroponic, genetically modified, hormone and antibiotic free, or otherwise. If you are concerned about other aspects of your health, these labels may be worth taking a look at.