The buzz for the last week was over a Stanford University study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that suggested organic foods were not healthier. The researchers did concede that the organic produce reduced pesticides levels by about 30%, but all levels in both organic and traditionally grown foods were below allowable safety limits. To examine the flip side of this issue, a 2009 study from France, published in the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development, showed that organic plants had higher mineral and antioxidant content and the flesh of organically raised animals had more polyunsaturated fat. This confounding evidence leaves you scratching your head wondering who is right. The truth, we don’t know.
Natural, local and organic are terms that are often confused. Natural confers a health halo of perceived goodness to any food that carries this label. In the US almost one-third of all new products introduced carry an “all natural” claim. The FDA has no definition for the word “natural.” The USDA proposed in 2009 to clear up the confusion about “natural” labeling. This is still in the works. In the meantime any company can use the term as a descriptor.
What does local mean to you? Does it define a food grown in your backyard, community, your town, your state, or your region of the country? Local eating has no standard definition other than that proposed by the locavore movement which proposed eating only food harvested within a 100 mile radius of your home. Though well intentioned, for most of us this would mean no flour, sugar, bananas, pineapples or fish. Local usually implies supporting local farmers and eating in a more planet-friendly manor. Your local farmer may be supplying very fresh and tasty produce but he may not be using organic farming methods.
Organic food, when it carries the USDA certified stamp, or any other certifying organic logo, must adhere to specific growing/handling/labeling criteria. This should give us confidence that the products we are buying, that often cost more, are truly organic. Usually this is the case, but as with anything that is regulated, there are going to be farms/companies/distributors who try to get around regulations. And, in some cases organic may not be the best choice. Case in point is organic or cage-free eggs.
The USDA concluded in a 2010 study that eggs from free-range, organic chickens both here and in Europe had higher levels of PCBs because the chickens get out of the henhouse and can peck anywhere. A Brazilian study got a similar result with DDT levels even though the pesticide had not been in use for 9 years. The history of the land and the surrounding land plays a role in the content of eggs when chickens roam. Another misconception is shell color. Organic eggs are often brown-shelled. Shell color is dependent on the breed of the chicken and has nothing to do with nutritional quality. Did you know it takes more feed to get brown-shell chicken breeds to lay an egg? You pay a premium price to support this extra production cost.
Wal-Mart, the largest grocery chain in the US, has gotten in trouble numerous times for mislabeling conventional foods as organic, including yogurt, milk, sugar, rice milk, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Cornucopia, an organic industry watchdog, was instrumental in uncovering this problem and officials of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and USDA took enforcement actions against Wal-Mart.
The organic food market is big business, surpassing $31 billion in 2011. The US simply does not produce enough organic food to supply ingredients for all the new organic foods coming to the market. To meet demand, companies are outsourcing ingredients to countries, such as China, where organic standards may not measure up to US regulations. If your goal is ecological eating, does it make sense to ship organic ingredients thousands of miles to produce organic yogurt, applesauce or a granola bar?
Dietitians are fond of the word moderation. Though not sexy or catchy, this phrase is the best advice you will ever get regarding food. Use organics, if you wish. But, don’t shun conventional food which can be just as healthy and good tasting. Instead, consider moderation, a balance between the foods you can afford, the foods your family likes, and the foods that will offer them good health.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
Your Complete Food Counter App: Click Here
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
For advertising and promotion on HealthNewsDigest.com please contact Mike McCurdy: tvmike13@HealthNewsDigest.com or 877-634-9180
HealthNewsDigest.com is syndicated worldwide, to thousands of journalists in all media, and health-related websites. www.HealthNewsDigest.com
Top of Page
Us | Job Listings
| Help | Site
Map | About Us
Advertising Information | HND Press Release | Submit Information | Disclaimer