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Organics? Does it really matter?

By on September 28, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

At one time “organic” food was primarily found in “health food stores,” which seemed to have a limited clientele as far as I could see. 

Nowadays, nearly all supermarkets have “Organic” sections in their produce sections. 

When I shopped for groceries, whether it was the regular section or the organic section, the foods looked the same to me. The main difference seemed to be that prices for “organic” produce were slightly higher than for the non-organic produce. 

I have to admit for a while I didn’t really think there was much difference between the two. 

As it turns out when we consider the difference from a health standpoint, this minor price difference should not sway us from the organic section. 

What does organic really mean? 

When I was a premedical student in the “dark ages,” in our organic chemistry classes “organic,” referred to a range of chemicals containing carbon and hydrogen as well as compounds based on carbon. So when “organic” foods started to become commonplace, it didn’t make much sense to me at first.

We now know in order for foods to be advertised as “organic,” they have to be certified and labeled with the USDA “organic” label. 

What does this really mean? 

In order to get the USDA organic label, foods have to have been grown in soil that has had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. 

Prohibited material includes sewage sludge for fertilizer, synthetic pesticides, and genetically engineered crops. 

Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce still might have very low detectable pesticide residue due to air drift from nearby nonorganic growers. 

Also, in true “organic” farming, genetic engineering as well as antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock are not permitted. 

Beware of the term “natural” when applied to produce or other foods. It sounds good but you need to know that the term “natural” only refers to artificial colors, artificial flavors or preservatives.

There is evidence that there are potential health benefits of eating organic foods compared to conventionally non-organically grown foods. 

These benefits depend on who you ask or what studies you read. The widely used herbicide Roundup has been classified as a “probable human carcinogen” and insecticides containing chlorpyrifos has been associated with developmental delays in infants. 

Studies have suggested that pesticides have been linked to reduced sperm quality in men and ADHD in children. 

Organically grown foods have been shown to contain less Cadmium, a toxic chemical. Organically produced milk can have as much as 50 percent more of the good omega 3 fatty acids, which is a healthy thing.

So what is the best advice for us to deal with our eating of produce? 

In general most of us grew up with our mom’s telling us to eat all our vegetables and I suspect moms today do the same thing. 

When I was young, I am sure the concepts of organic vs. non-organic foods wasn’t a factor at all or was unheard of. 

Nowadays, the production of our food has become a trillion dollar business (my guess). Ways to improve and increase the production of our food is a gigantic business worldwide, leading to questionable and perhaps dangerous practices.

As a result, we consumers have to be our own judge regarding the food we eat. 

We all have many more choices that we did in my early years. To be safe in what we eat I recommend eating “organic” especially if you are raising young children or planning to have more children in the future. 

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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