Nutrition is such a confusing and controversial topic. There are so many fads and fallacies that keep people stuck or flitting from one magic bullet to the next. I study the literature and in my practice I observe the effects different foods have on people’s health. The controversy over food is and will continue to be ongoing. Eating habits are one of the hardest things for people to change. Let’s examine some of the research so you can make your own decisions.
Organic food has become more popular and major industrialized food companies now have organic product lines. The trick is to understand how the terms are used especially when it comes to packaged or processed food. Organic foods must be free of artificial food additives. Chemical ripening, food irradiation, and genetically modified ingredients are used less often. Pesticides are allowed as long as they are not synthetic. However, under US federal organic standards, if pests and weeds are not controllable through management practices, nor via organic pesticides and herbicides, “a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases. Organic pesticides tend to have natural substances like soaps, lime sulfur and hydrogen peroxide as ingredients. Not all natural substances are allowed in organic agriculture.
When you think you are buying organic, look carefully at the label and how the term organic is used. There are different levels of organic.
- 100% Organic means all of the ingredients are organic
- Organic means 95% or more of the ingredients are organic
- Made with organic ingredients means at least 70% of the ingredients are organic
So why buy organic? Studies have not proven that the nutritional content of organic foods are superior. There was very little difference in vitamin, mineral and nutrient content. The difference lies in how it is grown, processed and preserved.
- Additives and Preservatives Food with a shelf life is processed and preserved to increase shelf life. It is stripped of nutrients and then flavoring, coloring, preservatives, thickening agents, texturizers and nutrients are added back in to make its taste and texture desirable. These can be the source of food sensitivities and intolerances.
- Herbicides and Pesticides. Studies show that that consumers who eat organic fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce pesticide concentrations in their bodies. The risks of exposure to synthetic pesticides, especially organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides that are toxic to the nervous system are greatest during pregnancy and childhood, when the brain and nervous system are most vulnerable. Studies published in the last decade demonstrated children’s higher sensitivity to the effects of neurotoxic pesticides. Adults are at risk as well because many act on estrogen receptors in men and women. These are called xenoestrogens and they can make you fat, anxious, irritable and cause hormone imbalances.
Do you have to buy everything organic? This depends on your unique metabolic, genetic, and environmental risk factors as well as any illnesses, medications or sensitivities. You can be tested to find out how well you metabolize or detoxify.
Situations that may interfere with your ability to detoxify are as follows:
- Food allergies and intolerances
- Vitamin, mineral, amino acid and fatty acid deficiencies
- Oxidative stress and damage
- Genetic variants or SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms)
All of these can be tested by a doctor who understands metabolism, genetics and functional anti aging medicine. You are unique and personalized medicine can help you understand your sensitivities and vulnerabilities so you can bypass metabolic and genetic blocks. You can turn off harmful genes and turn on helpful genes depending on your environment, lifestyle and food. Many nutrition programs only look at food as a means of getting enough protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals yet neglect the genetic and metabolic factors that can turn genes on or off and alter your metabolism. Our bodies are chemical labs and transform everything we put in it. Getting rid of toxins is an essential element for health, wellness and longevity.
If you are vulnerable or sensitive, an ideal situation would be to buy everything organic, however it is not always practical or attainable. The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of produce called the “dirty dozen.” Since these are heavily laden with pesticides, it is recommended that you buy these organic. The clean 15 have the lowest amount of pesticides and you don’t have to buy organic.
- Dirty Dozen – apples, bell peppers, blueberries, celery, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, and strawberries.
- Clean 15 – onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and mushrooms.
The list changes every year so be sure to check ewg.org yearly. Get tested to find out your unique genetic and metabolic sensitivities and vulnerabilies. Whenever possible, invest in your health and eat organic. Look for a metabolic specialist with a nutrition program to personalize medicine so you get optimal results.