To go, or not to go organic,
That is the question.
(With apologies to William Shakespeare) – HAMLET
Non-Organic Food And Weight Loss – Part 2
In Part 1 of Organic or Non-Organic?, we looked at whether there were any benefits of people already on a healthy or weight loss non-organic food diet going organic.
It is now widely accepted that organically grown produce has more antioxidants in fruit, vegetables and grains than non-organic and can increase your daily antioxidant intake without a proportional rise in calories.
But do you need to go organic to increase your daily antioxidant intake without a proportional rise in calories? I don’t believe you do.
By increasing the amount of negative calorie or zero calorie foods you eat, particularly if on a weight loss diet, you will increase your daily intake of antioxidants while maintaining, or possibly even reducing, your daily calorie consumption. See Diet – Negative Calorie Foods
We also looked at the pros and cons of organic and non-organic food, and also the wide difference of opinions by health and nutritionist experts as to the health benefits of organic food against non-organic food. Now let’s take a look at free radicals, antioxidants and pesticides.
What, exactly, are free radicals?
Free radicals are oxygen-based or nitrogen-based molecules with unpaired electrons that are generated within the body and play an important part in cell structure, but in high concentration become highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells and become hazardous to the body, causing damage to all major cell components, which includes DNA and proteins, among others.
For further information on Free Radicals, see Superfoods: Free Radicals
What, exactly, are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that can stop or slow oxidation and are essential compounds in all organisms: plants, mammals, fungi, bacteria, etc.
Oxidation is any chemical reaction that involves a loss of electrons of other molecules. There are two types of antioxidants:
- Endogenous, which are produced naturally by the body and search for free radicals and detoxify them by supplying the missing electron.
- Exogenous, which are derived mainly from food, but can also be found in some vitamins and minerals, do the same thing, reinforcing this vital health-promoting function.
The main function of antioxidants is to reduce the oxidation in body tissues by donating electrons to neutralize free radicals and help counteract or prevent the damage to health that research has found free radicals are strongly linked to.
How many antioxidants are there?
This is a question it is almost impossible to answer. There are so many known types of antioxidants and scientists are discovering new ones every day.
Did you know that in just one category of antioxidants – flavanoids – there are over 4,000 known types and this could well apply to many other known categories of antioxidants that are still being researched.
How many antioxidants do we need?
Again, virtually impossible to answer. There are literally thousands of the various types of antioxidants in the food we eat, combining and working to protect us from the damage too many free radicals can cause. There are also other substances in the food we eat which help these antioxidants to operate to their full potential.
Some of the better known antioxidants and classed as essential are Vitamins A, C and E, and minerals Zinc, Copper and Selenium.
Will taking antioxidant supplements help?
Although initial studies suggested that antioxidant supplements might promote health, later, large clinical trials with a limited number of antioxidants detected no benefit and even suggested that excess supplementation with certain putative antioxidants may be harmful.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to predict with any accuracy the health benefits of antioxidant supplements because of each person’s requirements and ability to utilize the antioxidants.
For further information on Antioxidants, see Superfoods: Antioxidants
high antioxidant foods: what are they?
Apart from fast and processed foods, most foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, contain antioxidants, some more than others. See Superfoods: High Antioxidant Foods for a list of the top twenty High Antioxidants Foods.
I, personally, have never taken any sort of supplement or made a point of eating organic.
I believe that a healthy well balanced diet, be it weight loss or otherwise, whether consisting of organic or non-organic food, that is rich in fruit and vegetables supplemented with both red and white lean meats for protein, fish to provide the omega oils that the body can’t manufacture and grains and cereals that provide fiber, then you will have all the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, that you need to keep you healthy.
Pesticides and Chemicals
Does “Organic” mean “Pesticide Free”? Apart from environmental issues, many people go organic believing that they are eating pesticide free produce.
This isn’t so, although organic produce may largely, but not necessarily, be lower in pesticides and chemicals than non-organic produce they certainly aren’t pesticide and chemical free.
There are strict regulations governing the use of fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides in the US, UK and most European countries.
These apply to both organic and non-organic food farming methods, and provided they are on the organic “approved list” and applied to the letter of the law it is permissible to use pesticides in organic farming, some which may be synthetic.
It is also permissible to use non-synthetic and synthetic fertilizers to improve the fertility of the soil and the health of the plants.
These pesticides and fertilizers may only be used when all other methods of soil fertility such as green manuring, and pest control methods such as crop rotation and physical barriers, have failed.
Let’s take one example of two common organic pesticides, Rotenone and Pyrethrin, versus a synthetic one, Imidan, considered a “soft” synthetic pesticide which means it is designed to have a brief lifetime after application, plus other factors that help minimize unwanted after effects.
A recent study of rotenone and pyrethrin versus imidan, came up with some surprising results.
It was found that up to seven applications of the rotenone/pyrethrin mixture were required to obtain the level of protection provided by two applications of imidan.
An experiment some years ago grew apples, one crop, sprayed with seven applications of rotenone/pyrethrin mixture yielded a 75% crop, those sprayed with four applications of imidan yielded a 90% crop.
Isn’t it just possible that, with organic farmers often having to treat crops more frequently with organic pesticides, some of them may contain more pesticides than those treated with a lesser amount of synthetic pesticides? Also I would imagine four applications of imidan is more environment friendly than seven applications of rotenone and pyrethrins.
While we’re on the subject of rotenone, did you know that rotenone is more toxic than many synthetic pesticides? It was withdrawn in 2005 over health concerns but was, as far as I am aware, reintroduced in 2010.
Rotenone is five times more harmful than malathion, 25 times more toxic than glysophate, 32 times more toxic than captan and 42 times more toxic than pyrimethanill. Pyrethrin is also more toxic than those stated.
One problem that tends to influence people towards organic produce is that studies only test for synthetic pesticides and this tends to make people believe that organic produce is healthier and more nutritious than non-organic produce.
There have been one or two studies carried out by various organizations testing both natural and synthetic pesticides in organic produce and scientists founds up to 42 percent had measurable traces of both pesticides.
Although I have searched in-depth for any publications that give a comparison of natural and synthetic pesticides in both organic and non-organic produce I have yet to find one. At least, some studies have proved that organic produce isn’t as pesticide free as it’s made out to be.
At the end of this post are some authority websites that you may wish to take a look at on the subject of natural and synthetic pesticides. These websites are not out to denigrate organic farming, but to dismiss some of the myths the pro-organic lobby would have you believe.
However, we don’t know for certain whether non-organic farming is more harmful than organic farming. The reason for this is that we don’t look at organic pesticides and fertilizers the same way that we look at non-organic pesticides and fertilizers.
We also don’t know how long these organic pesticides and fertilizers persist in the environment and the soil, or the full extent of their long-term effects.
The reason for this is that researchers, because they assume that natural pesticides and chemical are safe, haven’t bothered to study their long-term effects.
Why is this allowed to happen? When you look at lists of pesticides allowed in organic agriculture you will find warnings such as, “Use with caution. The toxicological effects of [name of pesticide or chemical] are largely unknown,” or “Its persistence in the soil is unknown”.
Are the amount of pesticides in non-organic produce really such a danger to health? Take apples for instance, top of the list of fruit and veg for pesticide contamination. I have read somewhere that you would need to eat around 780 each day to reach the safety limits recommended for pesticides by most agricultural and food and drug agencies!
Does this mean that by eating half that amount of organically grown apples with supposedly lower pesticide residue you will be healthier than eating non-organic apples?
Did you know that the average adult consumes about 1,500 mg of natural pesticides every day without knowing it? This is around 10,000 times more than they consume of synthetic pesticide residues every day, which is around 0.09mg.
These natural pesticides and chemicals are manufactured by the plants themselves to protect them from predators, pests and various diseases such as fungi.
A better understanding
I researched and wrote these articles in the hope that they will give a better understanding of what going organic is all about and help people decide if it’s for them.
I also wrote them mainly because I think the case for going organic presented by the pro-organic lobby doesn’t tell the whole story, it only pushes the pros without revealing any of the cons.
What I didn’t do was research and write these articles solely to try to deter people from going organic or demean it. As a matter of fact I feel that organic farming and what it produces has an important part to play, both environmentally and healthwise, but this doesn’t mean to say that conventional farming and its produce hasn’t got just as important part to play.
questions that need to be answered
Would I go organic? No, not at present because I believe there are too many question left unanswered. Would I ever consider going organic? Yes, I would, provided these questions are answered satisfactorily and not as some marketing exercise in promoting organic produce.
One of the questions I would like answering is why, after around fifty years of the organic movement, has there never been a detailed report on the long-term health benefits of eating organic. Is there something to hide?
Another question I would like answering is: while it is a widely accepted that organic produce is lower in pesticides and chemicals than conventional produce, with the extremely low safety levels of pesticides recommended by various food and drug and agricultural agencies, (see paragraph about apples), is the lower pesticide residue in organic produce really of any benefit?
Out of a US population of 360.1 million it is estimated that around 43 million buy organic food. In the UK with a population of 64 million around three in ten buy organic. What I would like to know is: are they any healthier than those who maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet, weight loss or otherwise, eating only non-organic food?
One thing I have noticed while researching this subject is the impartiality of reports that find no irrefutable evidence that organic produce is more healthy and nutritious or tastes better than conventional produce while many pro-organic reports give the impression that organic produce is superior to conventional produce by virtue of the fact it is healthier and more nutritious.
This may be done to influence people as to the benefits of going organic and is completely without foundation as it is yet to be established beyond doubt that organic produce is any more healthy and nutritious than conventional produce.
The only thing that has been established and pretty much agreed on is that, in the main, organic food has more antioxidants and less pesticide and chemical residue than non-organic food, but this doesn’t necessarily make it any more healthy or nutritious.
What they also fail to add in their reports is that people who go organic are much more likely to suffer illness caused by E.coli and Salmonella due to organic farmers using mainly animal manure, which harbors large amounts of E.coli and Salmonella bacteria, as a soil conditioner and fertilizer.
One final question: I wonder what would happen if, after spending three or four times as much on your weekly shopping bill, it was finally established beyond doubt that organic food was no more healthy or nutritious than non-organic food?
Below is a table showing the contamination levels of different fruit and vegetables that may help you decide how far along the organic road you want go, if at all.
You may wish to buy organic only produce from column 1; column 2 is middle of the road and the choice is yours, organic food or non-organic food? I think it is unnecessary to buy organic from column 3 unless you want to go wholly organic. As always, the final choice is up to the individual.
|Middle of the Road||Least Commonly|
Sweet Bell Peppers
Next up: Diet – The Mediterranean Diet