Organic: Worth It or Waste of Money?
The debate over organic food has been hashed over so many times, but I feel compelled to weigh in. Choosing to buy organic food has so many positive impacts on kids’ health that it makes it a really apropos topic when it comes to inspiring healthy kids. Organic foods are both tastier and more nutritious, so try to buy organic when you can. If you can’t buy all your fruits and vegetables organic, focus your purchasing on a few items that are more likely to be sprayed and that include the most important vitamins and minerals, such as dark leafy greens.
Plants can only pass on whatever nutrients are in the soil. If there are too many plants growing in one place, or the soil is depleted from overuse, there simply are not that many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to pass on in the fruits and vegetables they are growing. Instead of replacing or enhancing depleted soil with compost, they are dumping on fertilizers. In addition to the toxins and health hazards discussed above, fertilizers just don’t add nutrients back into the soil. Conventional fruits and vegetables often have significantly lower vitamin and mineral loads than do organic fruits and veggies.
A new analysis appears to refuel the debate about the nutritional value of organic versus conventional foods, by finding that organic crops and crop-based foods contain up to 69% more of certain antioxidants, are four times less likely to contain pesticide residue, and have significantly lower levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium. (quote source)
This is not the only study of its kind. Other studies have also shown statistically significant nutritional differences in organic versus conventional foods. Conferences, like the Quality Low Input Food conference, have tried to untangle the web of conflicting studies. The above-referenced study, published last year in The British Journal of Nutrition, was a compilation of over 300 studies that found statistically significant differences between organic and conventional produce. One such study, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that
Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops. There were nonsignificant trends showing less protein but of a better quality and a higher content of nutritionally significant minerals with lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops compared to conventional ones.
You don’t have to be a scientist to be able to tell the difference between organic and conventional fruits and vegetables. You can even taste the difference between them!. We can always tell if something is organically grown just by the flavor – without anyone having to tell us. Sometimes we will be eating at a friend’s house and will ask if something tastes especially powerful whether it is organic – our friends are always impressed. Try it and you’ll notice it, too.
The biggest benefit of big flavor in your fruits and vegetables is, of course, that your children will enjoy it. There is never any reason to put sugar on blueberries or strawberries, which should naturally be bursting with flavor and sweetness. Bananas, grapes, and watermelon should taste as sweet as candy – especially if you train your taste buds to appreciate it by avoiding processed sugars.
The biggest arguments I often hear about organic foods (and my husband used to own an organic food business, so we fielded a lot of questions) are that they cost more and that they are not as “fresh,” so let me address those two issues as well.
First, organic food costs more because it is higher quality. It is usually farmed by smaller, independent or family-owned farms, which don’t get the government subsidies big conglomerates do. Also, because they are smaller, they don’t have the ability to purchase things in such bulk and don’t have the clout to negotiate discounts with suppliers. They also use more expensive compost to replenish their soils and regularly let land lie fallow so it can naturally recuperate, which means they are not earning any money on certain fields at all times. Also, they don’t spray their plants with poisonous chemical pesticides and toxins, so sometimes they lose crops to animals or bugs. They then have to adjust their prices to account for those losses.
At any rate, anything that’s really good for you is worth a spending a bit more money. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and feeding your children organic food will help prevent many diseases. Not only will it prevent them from getting diseases associated with pesticides and fertilizers, but by feeding them a nutrient rich diet, you will be boosting their immune systems so they will be able to fight off any other illnesses that come their way. Don’t think of it as spending money on food, but think of it instead as saving money on doctors’ visits. Besides, if you buy what is fresh and in season from an organic farmer’s market, you may find yourself spending the same amount or only slightly more than you would at a more expensive local grocery store for conventional, out-of-season produce! (As an example, I recently bought 10 kg of organic, locally-farmed grapes at a farmer’s market for just $10, while conventionally grown and heavily sprayed grapes at the local supermarket were $2 per kilo.)
Additionally, food is cheaper now than it ever has been in history. Throughout most of history, humanity has struggled to find food just to survive. In some parts of the world, this is still true. But for the majority of Americans today, it is possible to buy groceries for a family for the whole week after just one day of work. For some, it is possible after just one or two hours! The average American spends less than 13% of their income on food. That means that we are spending less than one fifth of our money on food, when in the past we would have been spending the vast majority of our earnings on food. When you compare your child’s vitality and health to your own need for a plasma TV or a new iPhone, don’t you think your priorities should be clear? If you have to, forego the newest fancy gadget or the nicer car, and spend that extra money on giving your kids what is best for them.
Furthermore, many people spend money in the store without really thinking about it. Often, shoppers buy what they want, regardless of the price. Sometimes shoppers will choose an expensive version on sale even when it is still more expensive than the cheaper brand. If you begin to pay close attention to the amount you are spending while shopping and ask yourself how much you spend on individual items, you may find ways to cut costs. For example, I buy my brown rice when it is on sale 50% off. I might buy 20kg of rice at a time, but I never pay full price! You can then use those savings to buy healthier food items.
Next, organic produce is almost always fresher than what you find grown conventionally. However, it is not pumped full of pesticides and preservatives to keep it appearing perfect for extended periods of time. Conventional apples are coated with wax and then may sit in cold storage for months before they hit the shelves in your grocery store. Organic produce never works that way. It is only what is fresh, and usually it is only what is local. If it doesn’t seem to last as long in your fridge that is because it is fresh! Fresher food also contains more vitamins and minerals, so by buying organic weekly (or even daily), you are giving your kids more of the “good stuff.”
Remember, however, that when we speak about “organics,” we are speaking about fresh produce. Organic meat and dairy will also be free of hormones and antibiotics and will contain more nutrition – but they will still contain the unhealthy animals fats and cholesterol that your kids don’t need. If you have to continue eating meat and dairy, by all means, go organic… but if you can do without, then that is much healthier.
Furthermore, just because a product is labeled “organic” does not automatically make it healthy. Organic snacks can still contain added sugar (and just because it is “organic” added sugar does not negate the harm that added sugar does!) and organic products can also contain lots of added sodium. It’s up to you to read the labels and decide from there.