Thursday Thoughts: Organic

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...


Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something. 

This is a hot topic and has been for some time.  I think some of my thoughts on this are similar to what I had to say about the term natural.  There is just a vision of sainthood that pops into people's minds when something is labelled with organic.  Here are my thoughts:

1) Organic does not equal healthy.  This must be my first point.  I have said this before and I will say it again, a diet or organic chicken nuggets and organic pizza followed by organic cookies does not make a kid healthy, or an adult for that matter.  Organic potato chips likely have the same calories as regular chips, the only difference comes from the growing of the ingredients and of course the price tag.  Even if you buy organic packaged foods, you must still read the label to see about portion size, calories, sodium, and potentially the kind of fat too.  It is possible to be overweight and eat all organic foods, or foods that look healthy on their labels.  Honestly, eating too much of real health foods will still cause weight gain, the only difference is foods like fruits and veggies, plus whole grains help to fill us up and prevent overconsuming foods.  So, as I was saying, organic does not make something healthy.

2) Do you have to eat organic to be healthy?  My answer is no, and I have said this on my posts with natural foods and processed foods.  Be careful how you use these terms and do not overgeneralize on what is healthy and what is not.  There are plenty of healthy foods out there that are not organic.  Organic has to do with the method in which foods are grown.  While this may have a slight effect on nutrients, the biggest benefit is to the environment, which is a big pro for many people choosing organic to help the planet.  Many companies that make healthy foods can keep costs down by not paying to have them labeled with various seals and symbols that show they are a "healthy" food.  This means choose foods wisely and always read the food label.  Organic sugar is really no better for someone that regular sugar.  Read the label, read the label, read the label...and know what you are really buying.  

3) Produce!!!  The biggest effect can be with produce where pesticides may be difficult to remove from the skins of fruits and veggies.  While organic may not mean a big difference in nutrients, it may mean a difference in pesticide consumption.  Some produce is more likely to have higher quantities of these pesticides than others, and there are produce washes out there, but you may feel more comfortable going with something that was grown not using pesticides.  Just be away that when pesticides are sprayed, there is the possibility of residue traveling in the air and this could wind up effecting you.  If you are concerned about pesticides and the environment, then organic may be the way to go, but do not think that you are better than someone nutritionally just because you eat organic foods.  It can be costly, so I only encourage it with my clients if they have the desire to purchase these foods and I know they can afford it.  Price is a big factor and I would rather see someone afford to eat 5 servings of conventional produce a day over 2 servings of organic produce a day because they can't afford more than that.  Like I said, some foods are bigger offenders than others, so you may want to do some organic foods and some conventional to minimize the levels of pesticides consumed.

4) Maybe one day, when demand is high enough to bring down costs, organic will be a more realistic option for the majority of the population.  I think it will take a lot, but if more people create a demand and market for this, the cost can come down.  Pesticides are effective at saving crops that might otherwise go to waste and may end up with a famine situation, so this is a positive advancement that we made in agriculture.  The idea is to mass produce food to feed our multiplying population, but we all know that food still goes to waste and that there are still people in the US starving, but pesticides can't be dismissed as all bad.  The only problem now is that we know about the potential for toxicity from these, especially ones that build up in our body's fat stores, making them hard to get rid of.  Although we have the knowledge now, I do think it will take some time to reduce costs and make organic the mainstream.  

5) Don't forget about local.  Local not only supports the local economy and community, but uses much less transport time, and therefore reduces the time a car, train or plane carries the produce.  In other words, this is a much better option for the environment.  I never understood why people will buy lots and lots of organic cotton clothes when it uses energy to make the clothes and transport the clothes, and I know they people buying the clothes already have clothes and there was no necessity in buying these items.  While it is nice to support those who are organic, I don't agree with it at the cost of shipping and transport, which pollutes the air.  I know some companies still try to reduce their output, but I can't help but wonder if having things shipped across the country was really worth it and actually helped the planet.  I would rather stick to things locally and reduce emissions and pollution from long distance transport.  Also, many local, smaller farmers will also be organic.  They may not advertise that way, but check if you are not sure.  Then use those organic local products to cook and bake and great your own foods at home.  It is worth it to go local.

Well, this is another one of those topics I could go on about all day.  Yes, I left plenty out, but I know everyone has other things to do, like holiday shopping or enjoying the cooler temperatures.  Just keep some things in mind and never take food labels and ads at face value.  Always look at the labels and take time to understand what you are eating, both in terms of nutrition and general health.

QUESTIONS: What are your thoughts about organic foods?  I know many of you have shared on this before, but I thought I would ask again?  Have you ever seen someone who thought they were eating healthy, but were really fooled by misleading labels?  What is the one thing that you must have organic?


10 comments:

Bo said...

I tend to only buy organic produce and dairy...very seldom canned goods...unless the price is about the same of the regular.

Emily said...

I read that you can reduce your pesticide intake by 90% by choosing to eat organic versions of the "dirty dozen" foods. I also agree that organic is not synonymous with healthy and that local food is valuable too...some organic food is imported from halfway across the country, making it not as sustainable as we might like to think.

Great post, Melinda!

Kristen (swanky dietitian) said...

Great post! I often hear..well I brought organic chips, hot dogs, etc. That is my biggest pet peeve so I am glad you cleared that up. Just cause it is organic, doesn't make it healthy.

Rachel Lauren said...

I mostly buy either organic produce or local produce. local first, then organic... usually. I also only eat free range/cage free hormone free vegetarian fed chicken eggs, preferably from my neighbor or farmers market. And wild caught fish... As for organic junk food, its still junk food. a chip is a chip is a chip.

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

I said this before, but I really like your Thoughtful Thursdays series!

Yes, organic does not equal healthy. There are entire junk food aisles with organic food! And their nutritional values aren't much (if any) different than "regular junk food!"

I try to buy as much organic produce as I can as I really don't want to expose us (especially the toddler) to pesticides. I also regularly buy some non-organic produce from small, local farms who are not certified, but I trust their produce. I try to buy all produce on the dirty dozen list organic. Other produce I buy organic if the price difference isn't too big.

I like that you point out that organic produce can still be affected by pesticides that are used nearby. I think it's really important to thoroughly wash all produce before consuming it.

Gina; The Candid RD said...

Another wonderful post, Melinda.
I have recently been diving more into the actual definitions and requirements for the Organic seal. I'm reading a lot more about organic dairy and meat products, and slowly getting swayed to buy them. I'm just not so keen about the use of GMOs!! I also taste pesticides in my frozen blueberries :(

Overall, however, I am all about NOT wasting money on organic for foods such as crackers, bananas, breads, almond butter, etc. I have a short list of foods I buy organic, but hey, as you said prices might go down eventually! That would be nice, especially for the environment.

Chow and Chatter said...

great post and love the discussion I basically totally agree with you I buy both Rebecca

sophia said...

I rarely buy organic because it's so expensive, but occasionally I get really good deals at Costco, or even Whole Foods. I find it hilarious how some people think that organic cookies are healthy. As you said, there are more to the meaning of organic than a nice shiny stamp.

Rachel said...

good morning Melinda!
Do you know if your mom received the giveaway book you won? The workout book? Just wanted to check. thanks!

Astra Libris said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for point number 1 - I don't think this can be stressed enough!! I get very frustrated and worried seeing signs in the grocery saying "organic and healthy foods" hanging over shelves of cake mixes or other foods that aren't necessarily health foods at all...

I also really agree with you about the importance of eating local - I've started to place much more emphasis there, trying to eat locally and seasonally as much as possible...

Thank you for the great info and for keeping us informed!

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