Why Eating Organic Can Make A Difference

With the choices we have available today, making the right food decisions can be a daunting task. There are so many possibilities to choose from that seem to do the same thing: feed you. 

We're used to seeing unblemished produce at the grocery store year-round. To meet these expectations, producers try to grow picture-perfect yields, increasing their output and shipping their produce long distances, so food reaches the consumer looking farm-fresh and just-picked. 

Unfortunately, this type of food production has come to rely on growing methods that can cause health deficiencies for ourselves and the planet. Let’s be honest—if we’re going to live forever, we’ll need a place to call home, too. 

Not all foods are created equal; that’s why eating organic can make a difference for your health and longevity.

Here are five ways eating organic makes a difference in helping us live long, vibrant, healthy lives.

1. Fewer pesticides, toxic chemicals, fertilizers, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics

None of us would deliberately drink weed killer or eat lead, let alone feed it to our families. So why do we allow an arsenal of over 320 pesticides in the food we eat? 

In theory, these substances do the food system good. Pesticides kill bugs and rodents that can devour a crop. Fungicides prevent fungi from damaging plants. Herbicides clear fields of weeds that compete with crops for soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight. However, these chemicals build up in our bodies and the environment, and their effects can be disastrous. 

Carbendazim—used on produce such as apples, snap peas, strawberries, cucumber, grapes, pre-packed salads, and spinach—is one of the most popular fungicides in the world. However, evidence links it to developmental damage that could lead to cancers, developmental problems, congenital disabilities, and reduced sperm quality in men.  

Likewise, Glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup and the world’s most widely used herbicide—has been deemed by the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Meat-based proteins, such as pork, beef, poultry, and fish tend to contain even higher levels of these toxins than grains, fruit, and vegetables. As animals are higher up the food chain, chemicals become concentrated in the food they eat, primarily in their fatty tissues. Many animal-based proteins—especially chicken and beef—are also fed substantial amounts of hormones and antibiotics to promote growth and stave off disease in inhumane and crowded living conditions.

When you consider the above, as well as the wax and toxic chemicals sprayed on conventional food to improve shelf-life and maintain that "fresh from the field" appearance, being careless with our food doesn't sound like a risk worth taking.

While it’s impossible to avoid all of these toxins, we can implement Step 9 of TRANSCEND—Detoxification—and limit the amount going into our food system by choosing organically grown food. Farmers will produce what we demand, and as people who care about the longevity and healthspan of our lives, organic is our better option.

2. Less heavy metals 

 Heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, are toxic and can lead to abnormal immune function, learning disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases. Toxic heavy metals also increase free radical activity, which is a significant contributor to rapid aging.

Mercury is particularly toxic as it suppresses immune system function and is a known neurotoxin. It's found in high concentrations in swordfish and shark (avoid at all costs), and to a lesser extent in halibut, Alaskan cod, North American lobster, and tuna (eat periodically.)

We recommend keeping a low mercury diet, limiting your consumption of fish and seafood to species that are lower in mercury, and ideally, wild-caught. Wild fish are relatively low in fat and high in omega-3 fats, which can help promote improved mental health, eyesight, brain health, and so much more. Wild fish also lack the antibiotics and additives often found in farm-raised fish, making them naturally organic.

3. Fewer GMOs 

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants and animals that have been created by combining the DNA of different species in a way that could not occur in nature or by traditional cross-breeding. 

Genetic engineering alters crops to make them weather- and pest-resistant. This may sound good in theory, but the "-cides" used in many GMO experiments can be extremely dangerous for humans. For example, Bt-toxin—the pesticide in GMO Corn—combines with bacteria to kill insects by destroying the lining of their digestive tracts. The poison is not specific to insects, though; it also pokes holes in human cells, damaging the intestines and causing leaky gut. 

GMOs have been used commercially for only ten years. But a growing body of evidence, such as that published by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), warns that “it is biologically plausible for Genetically Modified Foods to cause adverse health effects in humans.”

Organic plants are, by definition, non-GMO; they occur naturally. When you choose organic meat, you’re also guaranteed that it's GMO-free, because organically reared livestock cannot be fed genetically modified feed.

For a better chance at a long and healthy life, make good food choices: eat organic and avoid GMOs.  

4. Greater environmental health

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t subsidize organic food like they do conventional, and thus organic costs more to produce. In reality, conventionally grown food actually costs the consumer more in the long run by charging us "externalities," or consequences that are not directly reflected in the cost of the goods.

Many of the externalities of conventionally raised food show up as effects on our environment:

  • Soil health degrades. As various “-cides” leech into the soil, they deplete its unique biodiversity. This causes the land to die and become unfarmable without the use of "super fertilizers" and "super seeds." In countries like India, this has led to the suicide of thousands of farmers who cannot afford these products and thereby can’t support their families. Organic farming creates healthy soil, and healthy soil produces healthy food.
  • Water is contaminated. Conventional farming results in the contamination of entire watersheds, forcing communities out of their homes both abroad and in the USA. Choosing organic protects the streams and lakes downstream from toxic runoff produced by conventional farming.
  • The atmosphere is compromised. Conventional farming practices—especially in livestock production—are enormously detrimental to the atmosphere. Most conventionally farmed animals are raised in Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs) with an inhumane amount of animals compacted into a small area. In CAFOs, over 331 different volatile organic compounds and fixed gases are released into the air as a result of this overcrowding, which can cause both short and long-term health effects and can lower the quality of life for humans. Organic farming, on the other hand, supports carbon sequestration, which helps mitigate rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
  • Biodiversity of crops. Conventionally raised plants are often grown on large-scale monoculture farms and produce crops that are ultrasensitive to bugs and disease. To kill these “superbugs” and “superweeds,” farmers use incredibly toxic poisons like 2 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid—a primary ingredient in Agent Orange—which then leaks into the soil, our water supply, and our bodies. Choosing organic encourages biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, for both humans and the planet.

By nurturing a food system that advocates and necessitates biodiversity and natural foodways, we can nurture a more resilient and stable food system and healthier food supply. 

5. It tastes better (which makes us more likely to eat it)

If nothing else, organic food tastes better!

Have you ever bitten into an off-the-vine tomato? Made a salad with fresh, baby arugula? Chopped cloves of garlic from a local farm? The flavours of local, organic produce put the stuff at the grocery store to shame. 

Eating organic helps people eat better because it tastes delicious and encourages us to enjoy more locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. With options like these, it’s easier to steer clear of processed foods and ingredients that lack flavour, nutrition, and substance.

What you can do next

Some types of conventionally grown produce are much higher in pesticides than others, while others are low enough that buying non-organic is relatively safe. We wish everyone could choose to eat entirely organic, though we know this may be unrealistic, depending on access and income. That’s why we advocate doing what you can, where you can.

STEP 1: Get the facts

Print off a copy of the Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen, two reference guides maintained each year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). These guides highlight produce with the most dangerous chemicals and point you toward options that are safer for your vitality and longevity.

STEP 2: Shop local & in season

Produce is cheapest, freshest and most nutrient-dense when it’s in season and freshly picked. 

  • Shop at farmers’ markets. Many communities host a weekly farmers’ market at least part of the year, if not all year round. Make attending an activity to look forward to—visit weekly and enjoy the fresh air, live music, delicious baked treats and food trucks, and the opportunity to meet the people who grow your food. While you’re there, you can even pick up your groceries for the week!
  • Join an animal-share or a food co-op. A cooperative farm or grocery store gives members the chance to stock up on high-quality local food for a much lower price than you’ll find anywhere else.
  • Become a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. These programs, often administered by local organic farms, require a nominal yearly fee + monthly purchase share of produce, dairy, and even meat. CSAs are a great way to take advantage of the seasons locally and minimize your decision making. Every meal is an adventure as you generally get what the farm has available.

Want to learn more about how you can detoxify your lifestyle, eat organic, and make better choices for your health and longevity? Pick up a copy of TRANSCEND: 9 Steps for Living Well Forever.
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