1. Organic food delivers more nutrition. Studies have repeatedly found increased levels of some nutrients in various organic foods. “That means more nutritional quality per calorie and food serving,” explains Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center for Education and Promotion in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Findings from the University of California at Davis (UCD) suggest that organic foods have much higher antioxidant levels—for example, organic strawberries, marionberries (blackberry type) and corn had significantly more flavonoids (19, 50 and 58.5 percent respectively) than conventionally grown varieties, as well as higher levels of vitamin C. Meanwhile, a USDA study comparing lycopene content in 13 brands of catsup found organic brands generally packed 57 percent more than national brands and 55 percent more than store brands. “By buying and consuming organic foods fairly consistently, consumers can easily double their daily intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” says Benbrook.
2. Eating organic dramatically reduces pesticide exposure. If you’re consuming the USDA recommended “five-a-day” servings of fruit and vegetables, you’re probably taking in six or more helpings of pesticide residue daily, says Benbrook. Various pesticides have been linked with adverse effects on fertility and fetal development and with increased cancer risk. According to Benbrook, more than 90 percent of conventionally grown produce contains pesticide residue, compared with 20 percent of organically produced fruits and vegetables, and these have much lower concentrations. (Pesticide residue on organic produce comes from soil that previously supported conventional farming and pesticide drift from neighboring farms.)
3. Eating organic can decrease your intake of food additives such as MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial sweeteners and food coloring agents. Various additives and dyes have been linked to food allergies, hyperactivity, neurological disease and cancer.
4. You won’t find any growth hormones or antibiotics in meat or dairy. Growth hormones, which are injected in cows to increase lean muscle mass and milk production, have been linked to early puberty development and a higher risk of cancer.
5. Organic food doesn’t contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The jury is still out on the health effects of eating transgenetic food, such as wheat that’s had a fish gene spliced into it. You can steer clear of “Frankenfoods” by choosing organic and avoid playing the guess-what-you’re-really-eating game altogether.
6. Organic food tastes better, fresher longer. “Organic produce tends to taste better, most likely because of higher antioxidant levels, which help it store longer too,” says Alyson Mitchell, PhD, the nutritional scientist at UCD who led the antioxidant studies. Also, many organic farmers are small, local food producers, so food can get to market much more quickly—sometimes even the same day it was picked. And because it tastes better and fresher, Benbrook believes it can encourage people to reach the daily recommendation of five to 10 servings more easily.
Organic by the numbers
In food industry surveys of U.S. consumers taken in 2004,
* 66% say they use organic products at least occasionally.
* 27% ate more organic food than they did the previous year.
* 70% worry about the health risks of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals in food.
* 32% say organic food tastes better.
* 54% think organic food is better for their health.
* 58% think organic food is better for the environment.