By George Mateljan
I always recommend purchasing organically grown foods whenever possible. However, many people often wonder if buying organically grown foods is truly worth it... What is the real difference? Consumption of organically grown food is a great way to reduce your exposure to contaminants commonly found in foods that have been grown using conventional agricultural practices. It's important to remember that conventionally grown foods often have a "hidden" cost - the cost of environmental harm and the cost of long-term health risks from contaminants. These "hidden" costs do not show up on the grocery store shopping receipt, but they exist nevertheless.
These contaminants may include not only pesticides - many of which have been classified as potential cancer-causing agents - but also heavy metals. These can include metals such as lead and mercury, and solvents like benzene and toluene. Minimizing exposure to these potential toxins is an important benefit for your health. Heavy metals can damage nerve function, contributing to diseases such as multiple sclerosis, and interfere with hemoglobin production in a way that increases risk of anemia. Solvents can damage white blood cell function and lower the immune system's ability to resist infections. In addition to lessening your exposure to these potentially harmful substances, organically grown foods, on average, contain higher levels of many nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
These two aspects of the organic food consumption decreased intake of contaminants and increased intake of nutrients - have both been topics of controversy in research. While I understand the reasons for this controversy, I am also firmly convinced that organically grown foods contain significantly fewer contaminants than their conventionally grown counterparts, as well as significantly richer nutrient content.
Let's take a look at the contamination aspect. One of the largest scale studies, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on more than 94,000 food samples, found at least one pesticide residue on approximately 75% of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, in comparison to approximately 25% of organically grown vegetables. Almost half of the pesticide residues found on organically grown vegetables involved DDT or its metabolites.
What is DDT? It is a pesticide that has been banned for 40 years for use on food, but because it can be very persistent in the environment, it often shows up in foods decades later. When DDT and related pesticides were excluded from the results, the percentage of organically grown foods with pesticide residues dropped to about 13%.
These contaminants and pesticides are extremely harmful to us, but a large amount of the population still hasn't made the switch to eating organically grown foods. It's not a trend or fad, it is something we should all be mindful of when we buy our food. If the contaminants were visible on the outside you wouldn't buy it, so why should it be any different if we know they're on the inside? I believe organic foods are absolutely worth purchasing, and once you've made the switch - you'll believe it too.
George Mateljan is an expert on health-promoting foods and healthy cooking. The author of eight best-selling books and founder of Health Valley Foods, one of the largest health food companies in the world, George was a pioneer in the organic food movement, encouraging and supporting the development of organic farming. After 26 years with Health Valley, he turned his energies and resources to the George Mateljan Foundation. The Foundation helps individuals learn about The World's Healthiest Foods Way of Eating through its the creation and operation of the number one website on healthiest foods, www.whfoods.org and the publication of health-promoting books. Whfoods.org provides information on how to include nutrient-rich foods as part of your every day life. Learn more in George's book, "The World's Healthiest Foods". Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.