Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Is Eating Organic Worth It?

There is an ongoing debate about whether organic foods are really better for you than conventionally grown foods.  As it is more expensive, it is important to know whether it is worth the money or not.

For a product to become certified organic it must pass several criteria including being free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics and food additives.   These products are then labeled with the logo of the certifying body.  These organizations include the USDA, Australian Certified Organic, Canada Organic, or EU Organic Farming.  Some products aim to deceive by putting the word organic in their name, but this does not necessarily mean it is organic.  In Australia, several ‘organic water’ bottlers have been forced to remove the word organic from their name.  Water cannot be organic or otherwise.  Also, organic does not necessarily mean it is free from genetic modification, but these often go together.

Pesticides are made to kill bugs on plants.  Although they are allowed in low amounts on food, it only makes sense that if they can kill big bugs, that they could kill the small bugs in your gut.  Dr. Mark Donohoe is a GP in Sydney who previously thought there was no reason to eat organic, but has recently discovered that pesticides can have a big effect on your normal gut bacteria.  Good gut bacteria are needed to keep the bad bacteria at bay.  An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria has been connected to everything from IBS and headaches, to arthritis and weight gain.  With almost every health complaint I start by making sure a patient’s gut is functioning properly. 

It is still unknown the extent to the health problems that could be caused by pesticides but it is hard to believe they can kill bugs without affecting us.  The use of neonicotinoid insecticides has been banned in the EU due to its effects on bee health.  Beekeepers in Australia are calling for a ban on them too.

A study published in January 2013 found that fruit flies fed organic produce had greater fertility and lived longer. These flies were also more active and showed more resistance to stress.  Another study published in February found that tomatoes that were grown organically were subjected to more stress.  This stress caused them to be smaller, but higher in vitamin C and phenols.  Phenols can act as antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol.

A 2012 study found a higher risk of being exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria after eating conventional chicken or pork as well as higher concentrations of pesticides in the urine of children eating conventionally grown foods.

To keep the cost of buying organic down, you can pick and choose some foods to buy organic and other conventional.  In Australia the foods with the highest pesticide residues are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines and peaches.  If you eat apples every day, but only have pears once in awhile, then you want to buy organic apples but could let the pears slide.  Buying seasonal, local foods is also cheaper.  When you do buy conventional produce, make sure that you wash it well.  Remember though, just because it is organic, doesn’t mean it is good for you.  Organic sugar is still sugar!

If you have any questions about organic produce, talk to your local naturopath.


Amis A. The Dose Makes The Poison (Internet). Friends of the Earth; 2012 Feb. Available from: http://www.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/TheDoseMakesThePoisonFeb2012_0.pdf

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. ACCC negotiates removal of misleading ‘organic’ water claims (Internet). 2013 Jul 16. Available from: http://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/accc-negotiates-removal-of-misleading-‘organic’-water-claims

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority. Neonicotinoids and honey bee health in Australia (Internet). 2013 Mar (updated 2013 May). Available from: http://www.apvma.gov.au/news_media/chemicals/neonics.php
Better Health Channel. Food - pesticides and other chemicals. 2011 July.  Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Food_pesticides_and_other_chemicals

Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH. Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE. 2013 Jan 9; 8(1). Available from: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0052988

Kamal-Eldin A, Frank J, Razdan A, Tengblad S, Basu S, Vessby B. Effects of dietary phenolic compounds on tocopherol, cholesterol, and fatty acids in rats. Lipids. 2000 Apr; 35(4):427-35.

Oliveira AB, Moura CFH, Gomes-Filho E, Marco CA, Urban L, Miranda MRA. The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (2). Available from: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0056354

Organic food better for bowel health, Dr Mark Donohoe says (Internet). The Australian. 2013 Aug 23. Available from:

Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):348-366.