Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest Blog Post: When Paying for Organic Really Does Make a Difference

Below is a guest blog written by Christine Case-Lo, representing Healthline, web-site that is a great resource for medical information and includes many helpful health tools.

Buying all organic sounds like a great idea. We all want to eat healthy, use more natural products, and have a smaller footprint on our environment. But the expense can get overwhelming. That coveted organic label sometimes can double the price of an item.

Is it worth it? What does healthier eating really mean? Is organic more nutritious or less harmful?

Organic food does not necessarily contain more nutrients than conventionally grown food. A 2012 review in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at forty-five years worth of scientific literature on the topic. Researchers determined that there was little evidence that organic food had more nutrients. However, that same review said consuming organic food reduced exposure to pesticide residue in produce. Organic meats were also less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Pesticides in Produce

Pesticide exposure is a real concern, especially for growing children and pregnant women. Pesticides have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and birth defects.

The Environmental Working Group maintains a list of popular produce items ranked by their pesticide content. These twenty items are a good place to start investing in organic:

1. Apples
2. Strawberries
3. Grapes
4. Celery
5. Peaches
6. Spinach
7. Sweet bell peppers
8. Nectarines (imported)
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry tomatoes
11. Snap peas (imported)
12. Potatoes
13. Hot peppers
14. Blueberries (domestic)
15. Lettuce
16. Kale/Collard Greens
17. Plums
18. Cherries
19. Nectarines (domestic)
20. Pears

The good news is the EWG also maintains a list of the “Clean Fifteen”. These are produce items that don’t contain a lot of pesticide. These are pretty safe to buy as conventionally grown:

1. Avocado
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen sweet peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwi
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet potatoes

 Antibiotics in Meat and Hormones in Milk

Organic milk and meat can be pricey as well. It might be worth it if you are concerned about exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and hormones. The EWG recently reported the results of federal testing of supermarket meat. Tests showed significant levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81% of ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef and 39% of chicken breasts, wings and thighs.

How to avoid exposure? A 2011 study showed that poultry farms that converted from conventional to organic and who had stopped feeding antibiotics to their stock reduced levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Meat raised without antibiotics is less likely to contain antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Many people purchase organic milk to avoid exposure to rBGH. rBGH is a hormone given to dairy cows to increase milk production. It is not given to cows on organic farms. However, doctors from the American Academy of Pediatrics did not advocate buying organic milk. According to the AAP, the bovine growth hormone found in conventional milk is not active in humans. Most of the hormone is destroyed during pasteurization.

Cows are also treated with estrogen supplements on conventional farms. The AAP states that the levels of estrogen in conventional cow’s milk are much lower than the level of sex hormones found in human breast milk. There should not be a high risk with exposure in children drinking conventional milk.

But organic milk may have some unique benefits. Studies have shown that full-fat organic milk, from cows that been allowed to graze, has a higher level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are protective against cardiovascular disease.

Ultimately the impact of cows on the environment is considerable. The methane they produce from intestinal gas is a source of greenhouse gas. The AAP suggested that cows treated with hormones to increase milk production might actually have a lower impact on the environment, since fewer cows are needed to produce the same amount of milk.

Lean Green Clean

 Organic living isn’t just about food; it’s about reducing your impact on the environment. But choosing the “organic” cleaner, the “green” storage container, or “earth-friendly” weed killer doesn’t have to be budget busting.

Many pricy but toxic cleaning products can be replaced with white vinegar, lemon juice or baking soda pastes. Inexpensive glass mason jars are a great alternative to plastic storage containers.

Weed killers like Roundup containing glyphosate have been shown to be highly toxic in pregnant women. Killing weeds with boiling water, salt or undiluted vinegar is safe and inexpensive. Those are all effective ways to kill weeds without adding toxins to your environment.

Making the decision to go organic doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Every little bit has a positive impact on your health and the environment. Making smart produce choices, looking for antibiotic-free meats, and making your own cleaning products are good ways to go organic without breaking the bank.

-All 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue data. (2014) Environmental Working Group. Retrieved June 8, 2014 from
 -EWG’s Shopping Guide to Pesticides in Produce. (2014) Environmental Working Group. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
-Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Organic Foods: Are They Safer? More Nutritious? (September 2012) The --Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
 -Smith-Spangler, C. et al. (September 2012) Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? Annals of Internal Medicine. 157(5): 348-366. Retrieved June 9, 2014 from
· Benbook, C. (December 2013) Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States-wide, 18-month study. PLOS One. 8(12):e82429. Retrieved June 9, 2014 from
· Jakuboski, S. (July 2011) the Dangers of Pesticides. Scitable by Nature Education. Retrieved June 9, 2014 from
· Sapkota, A. (November 2011) Lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci on US conventional poultry farms that transitioned to organic practices. Environmental Health Perspectives. 119(11): 1622-1628. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
· Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets. (2013) Environmental Working Group. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
· Forman, J. et al. (October 2012) Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. Pediatrics. Published online DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-2579. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
-Benachour, N. and Seralini, G-E. (2009

About the Author: 

Christine Case-Lo loves helping people understand more about health and science issues that impact their lives. Christine is a work-at-home mom, a writer and a special needs advocate. She has degrees in medical coding, bioengineering and pharmaceutical chemistry. Educational writing has been a passion of hers since childhood. She's been contributing to Healthline for two years.

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