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Is Organic Food Healthier? The Answer Is Yes - Rodale Press
Last modified: 2010-06-03 00:16:10

There's not enough evidence to say organic food is healthier, because studies on the topic are few and far between, according to a British review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this month. (Of course, that also means there's a dearth of evidence that eating organic won't help your health.) However, there's more to the story. Organic advocates note that although the review was solid, and more funding is needed to explore the effects of eating organic on preventing disease, there is plenty of concrete evidence linking the chemicals used on our food (including carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins) to human health problems-even in small doses comparable to that found on food, in food, and around the home in common chemical bug and weed killers. In fact, earlier this month the President's Cancer Panel cited emerging research and recommended Americans take the precautionary approach and start eating food grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics.

THE DETAILS: To be clear, despite the way that some media outlets are reporting this story, the authors of the review did not say that organic food is no healthier for you than chemically grown food. Rather, their results imply that there is insufficient evidence to say that organic is healthier. The study authors found nearly 100,000 studies looking at health outcomes of eating organic foods with those of eating conventionally produced food, but only 12 met the reviewers' criteria for inclusion in their analysis. Researchers also noted that most of the studies only focused on indirect human-health outcomes, such as antioxidant levels.

WHAT IT MEANS: According to the study, there just hasn't been much research done that directly compares the health effects eating organic food versus food grown with agrichemicals. Big food companies that rely on industrial chemical farming certainly aren't funding such studies. But that may be changing, says Warren Porter, PhD, professor of zoology and environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is starting to see a shift in federal funding for research that looks at what preventive measures protect health, rather than all the money going to treatments and cures. Which could mean more research into the health benefits of eating organic.

And just this month Harvard researchers published a first-of-its-kind study, which found that everyday pesticide exposure coming mainly from the diet significantly increases a child's risk of ADHD. Federal investigators are also looking into exposure to the common weed killer atrazine. Researchers have found that birth defects are highest among offspring conceived during the summer months, when more atrazine runs off into the drinking-water supply.

While it's costly and difficult to design a study following a group of people on a strict organic diet (Who's to say they're actually always eating organic?), compared with others on a conventional chemical diet, there has been mounting evidence relating exposure to pesticides to some cancers, particularly a common form of childhood leukemia, obesity, type 2 diabetes, infertility, miscarriages, and other health issues. For these reasons and others, the President's Cancer Panel released a report urging Americans to eat organic food, among other strategies, to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals.

Here's how to go organic, even if you don't think you can afford it:

• Grow some. You can get more than a hundred pounds of vegetables from just a small backyard garden plot, saving you hundreds of dollars a year.

• Find a market. Visit a farmer's market or farm near you. (If it's too far away, go with friends or neighbors who can drive or will chip in for gas, and buy lots of stuff at once so you can make less frequent trips.) You can save money buying directly from the growers. If you buy in bulk and store the excess, you'll cut your costs, too.

• Think big. Organic food isn't subsidized by the government the way corn and soy are-and a large percentage of those two crops are genetically engineered varieties used to feed cows an unhealthy diet and in processed foods-so organic actually reflects the true price of food. Plus, organic food doesn't create major environmental pollution problems that taxpayers fund to clean up, and it doesn't pollute drinking-water supplies and recreational and fishing areas. Organic agriculture also helps the soil store carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it creates unstable climate fluctuations.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA, USA

Keywords: Is Organic Food Healthier? The Answer Is Yes, Rodale, Press, How to go organic, ADHD,
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