I always recommend organic food to my clients. And sometimes, I can immediately see their eyes glaze over and swear I can hear their thoughts:
“Ugh, organic is so expensive.”
“Organic doesn’t really matter. Veggies are veggies.”
“GMO…whatever. I’m not a scientist. Who cares.”
Organic foods DO make a difference to health and nutrition, and it’s something we really should all care about.
In July of 2014, the British Journal of Nutrition published a study that looked at 343 previous studies of whether organic food was more nutritious than conventionally grown. The researchers concluded that organic crops contained higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, up to 40% more. At the same time, the researchers found that conventional foods contained greater concentrations of residual pesticides and the toxic metal cadmium. The theory is that organic plants produce more antioxidants and natural toxins to defend themselves against insects and other environmental threats.
Beyond being more nutritious, the lack of pesticide residues is what makes organics really pretty great. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are endocrine disruptors: fake estrogens, essentially. These bind to our hormone receptors, blocking our natural hormones from being able to act as designed, and thereby mess with everything from our gut health to our liver to our reproduction to our brain function. In the gut, endocrine disruptors are known to allow “bad” bacteria to proliferate, which is now being shown to be linked as one cause of obesity. Not only are pesticides and fertilizers known endocrine disruptors, but so are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
It’s been said that GMO really stands for “God, Move Over.” GMOs are created by a laboratory process that transfers genetic material into the DNA of an organism. There are nine genetically modified (GM) food crops currently on the market in the US: soy, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa.
Most GM crops are engineered to tolerate a weed killer called Roundup®, whose active ingredient is glyphosate. These crops, known as Roundup-Ready crops, accumulate high levels of glyphosate that remain in the food. Basically, the crops get sprayed with Roundup, the weeds die, and we eat the remaining crops that are covered in Roundup.
Corn and cotton varieties are also engineered to have their cells produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin, to make them resistant to pest damage. The Bt-toxin is produced in every cell of genetically engineered corn and ends up in corn chips, corn tortillas, and other ingredients derived from corn. The Bt-toxin produced by genetically modified corn kills insects by punching holes in their digestive tracts, and a 2012 study confirmed that it punctures holes in human cells as well. Bt-toxin survives in the milk and meat of animals that are fed GMO animal feed, and are passed on to us–80% of human fetal blood samples tested show the presence of Bt-toxin. There is even a theory that the genes from the corn can transfer into the native bacteria in our gut and start producing toxins there, essentially turning our good flora into toxin factories!
A recent analysis of research suggests that Bt-toxin, glyphosate, and other components of GMOs are linked to five conditions:
- Intestinal permeability
- Imbalanced gut bacteria
- Immune activation and allergies
- Impaired digestion
- Damage to the intestinal wall
It is believed that the atmospheric rise in the number of cases of gluten intolerance and other food allergies in this country in recent years may well be linked to the increase in GMO crops in our food supply, as we know that food sensitivities result from gut wall damage and increased permeability. Basically, you eat a food, and particles of it escape through the damaged gut wall into the bloodstream, where food particles were never meant to be. Your immune system sees these particles as invaders, and sets up an attack, which is what we define as a sensitivity or allergy–when your body is reacting to/attacking a food and symptoms occur as a result of eating it.
There are many hidden sources of GMOs to be aware of. One major exposure is in the oils used in restaurants for cooking, dressings, and sauces, which are commonly soybean, vegetable, corn, canola, and cottonseed oils. Additionally, non-organic sugar is often from GMO sugar beets. Farmed fish eat GMO soy pellets. And most critically, about 88% of the US corn crop is GMO.
The surest way to avoid GMOs, pesticides, and other endocrine disruptors is to buy and eat organic food. By definition, organic food must be grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering or chemical fertilizers. My clients have heard me say that I am a stickler for only organic corn and soy (if you choose to make soy part of your diet). Anything that grows in direct contact with the soil, such as potatoes or carrots, or cannot be peeled, such as berries, really should absolutely only be consumed in organic forms.
Yes, organic food can often be more expensive than conventionally grown. Farmers’ markets are a great resource for local, fresh organic food, and frequently are less expensive. But honestly, is anything more important than the quality of what you put inside your body?
Some of the information for this blog post came from Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology.