The Health Benefits of Organically Grown Food

Organically grown food is healthier for you, and healthier for planet Earth. I want to summarize the reasons why organically grown food is better than large-scale commercially grown food and why I am a strong supporter of the organic farming movement. Issues I want to discuss are nutritional content of the food that is grown, health of the soil, fertilization practices, use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, and issues affecting the environment.

To begin with, let's talk nutrition. Numerous studies report that the nutritional content of commercially grown foods has declined substantially over the past 50-70 years. I think this is largely due to the way industrial farming (factory farming) operations treat their soils and grow their foods. Commercial farming operations use chemical fertilizers consisting mostly of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (known as the NPK ratio which are the chemical symbols for those minerals). Humans require about 35 vitamins and minerals for health. Most commercial farming operations are only adding 3 nutrients back into the soil. Where is the chromium, selenium, calcium, magnesium, etc.? I think we are facing an epidemic of trace mineral deficiencies in foods grown by industrial farming.

Nutritional Content of Food
A study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables between 1963 and 1992. This was reported by Paul Bergner in his 1997 book The Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients, and Trace Elements. The foods measured were oranges, apples, bananas, carrots, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, celery, romaine lettuce, broccoli, iceberg lettuce collard greens and chard. The average nutritional loss in these foods from 1963 to 1992 was as follows: calcium -29.82%, iron -32%, magnesium -21.08%, phosphorus -11.09% and potassium -6.48%. Unfortunately they did not measure important trace minerals such as chromium and selenium but I'm sure they have declined too.

A study published in the British Food Journal and presented at the Agricultural Production and Nutrition conference held at Tufts University in 1997 reported similar statistics, documenting the decline in mineral content of foods over a 50-year period. The title of this presentation was, "Historical changes in the Mineral Content of Fruits and Vegetables"  The nutrient content of 20 vegetables and 20 fruits was evaluated. On average, the decline in the mineral content of vegetables was as follows: calcium -19%, magnesium -35%, iron -22%, copper -81%, sodium -43%, potassium -14%. Also, on average the mineral decline in fruits was: magnesium -11%, iron -32%, copper -36%, sodium -10%, potassium -20%.

I present a study titled Organic Foods vs Supermarket Foods: Element Levels in many of my seminars. This study was conducted in the early 1990 by a man named Bob Smith who worked for a Chicago company that specialized in doing laboratory analysis for trace minerals. Over a period of two years Bob and his co-workers went to organic and commercial grocery stores in the Chicago area and selected samples of various fruits and vegetables. They used the trace element testing technology in their laboratory to test the foods, and the foods were coded so the lab personnel did not know which foods were organic or commercial.

On average, the organically grown food had more than double the nutritional content compared to the commercially grown food. Some of the specifics include the following:
a) Organically grown wheat had double the calcium, 4x more magnesium, 5x more manganese and 13x more selenium than the commercially grown varieties.
b) Organically grown corn had 20x more calcium and manganese and 2 to 5 times more copper, magnesium molybdenum, selenium and zinc.
c) Organically grown potatoes had 2 or more times the amount of boron, selenium, silicon, strontium and sulfur, and 60% more zinc.
d) Organically grown pears had 2-3 times more chromium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, silicon and zinc.

Toxins In Our Food Supply
Data from the Bob Smith study discussed previously reported that organically grown foods also had lower quantities of toxic elements such as lead, mercury and aluminum compared to commercially grown foods.

Data from numerous other studies indicate that organically grown fruits and vegetables have significantly lower pesticide residue levels but the significance of this finding on health risks is controversial because both conventional foods and organic foods generally have pesticide levels well below government established guidelines for what is considered safe. However, consider the following two studies.

1) A study published by the National Research Council in 1993 determined that for infants and children, the primary source of exposure to pesticides is through diet.
2) A study titled Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children's Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2006. This study measured the levels of toxic organophosphorus pesticides in 23 school children initially and then and after them to an organic food diet. The results revealed that the levels of organophosphorus pesticide exposure dropped dramatically and immediately when the children switched to an organic food diet.

Prematurely Picked Produce
Most commercial fruit is picked green but studies show that the majority of the nutritional content in foods is created under the influence of sunlight during the natural ripening process. Green fruit doesn’t have a chance to sun-ripen; it’s artificially ripened with ethylene, a natural plant hormone. Ethylene is what causes tomatoes to turn pinkish. Produce deprived of sunlight doesn’t have a chance to develop sunlight-related nutrients such as anthocyanins—the flavonoids that make cherries red and grapes purple. Anthocyanins are plant sunscreens. When humans ingest them, they provide protection against DNA damage, brain cell deterioration and cancer.

Other examples include the following. Cherries picked early have 50% less vitamin C than cherries picked during the final stages of ripening.  Also, when researchers at Oregon State University studied blackberries, they discovered that green ones contain 74 mg of anthocyanins, compared to 317 mg in ripe ones (per 100 grams fresh weight). A similar phenomenon occurs in other fruits as well.

Health Of The Soil
Microorganisms in the soil play an integral role in plant nutrition. This is similar to the condition in humans. The friendly organisms in the human digestive tract (probiotics) play a critical role in the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. When farmers spray pesticides, insecticides and herbicides on crops, much of it goes into the soil where it kills the soil's natural microorganisms. This inhibits the ability for plant roots to absorb nutrients from the soil.

Avoid Genetically Modified Foods
I've previously written about the dangers of genetically modified foods. I recommend that people read Jeffrey Smith's book Genetic Roulette, which presents the documented health risks of genetically engineered foods.

Shop organic and support organic farming. It is better for your health and it is better for Planet Earth.

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