I like food!!
I like to eat and cook, and whenever I can, I prepare meals from a scratch. I cook for my whole family, trying to satisfy everyone’s cravings, especially the toughest critics – my kids. That is why, I pay special attention to ingredients.
For many years now, I have been slowly progressing towards organic food. I usually use mostly organic ingredients, unless I cannot find the once that answer my requirements, at which time I turn to conventional products. The other day, we had friends over for dinner and got into conversation about organic vs conventional food. To my great surprise, I realized that many people choose to omit eating certain products for a sole reason – not organic. I decided it was time for me to re-visit organic food vs conventional food and its effect on children.
First, let’s start off with defining what organically-grown foods mean. Organically-grown foods are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Organic food is not necessarily is 100% made of all organic ingredients. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), mandates for all ingredients to be organically certified for a product to be labeled “100 percent organic”. “Organic” labeled food usually consist of at least 95% certified organic ingredients. Products with at least 70% certified organic ingredients are labeled as “made with organic ingredients”.
So, what is being looked at when organic food gets compared to conventional? Food related illness, such as gastroenteritis. Food usually becomes contaminated by raw manure fertilization, crops irrigation with contaminated water, or fecal contamination during processing and handling. The risk of contamination with bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics is higher in conventionally grown products, but overall risk of bacterial contamination is not different. To minimize the food-borne illnesses, always follow this simple rules:
- Thoroughly cook your meat
- Store food at appropriate temperature
- Keep kitchen surfaces, tools and hands clean – especially after handling raw poultry, meat, fish or seafood.
Most of the debate about organic and conventional food centers on pesticides. Pesticides are being used in farming to increase crop yield and affordability of fruits and vegetables throughout the year. They also may prolong shelf life and hinder mold growth. On the other hand, large quantities of pesticides may cause adverse effects, such as dizziness and nausea, long term neurologic, developmental, and reproductive disorders. Compared to adults, young children and infants have different level of risk for adverse effects of pesticides. There are many conflicting reports on association between maternal pesticide exposure and fetal growth.
There is some evidence from animal studies that in-utero exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides at high doses may affect neuro-development and growth in the offspring.
While no synthetic pesticides are used in organic farming, organic food contains residues of synthetic pesticides, probably from cross contamination by wind and underground water. It is well-known that all plants produce toxins (aka natural pesticides) that protect them from insects, predators and infections, but some plants may have an increased amount of natural pesticides, which can also cause adverse effects.
Use of pesticide is regulated strictly by three federal agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These agencies determine the legal limit of a pesticide residue that can be allowed to be used without causing major potential adverse effects in infants and children. And if the study suggests that children may be harmed by exposure to a certain pesticide, that pesticide does not get approved by the agencies.
Most pesticides begin to break down soon after they are exposed to sunlight and rain. The levels of pesticide can be further reduced through washing, peeling, or cooking. Some papers recommend canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are alternatives to fresh fruits and vegetables for individuals concerned about pesticide residues. Most current food preservation techniques minimize the loss of nutritive value and are safe and well standardized.
The use of hormones and steroids is another big topic that surrounds organic vs. conventional products. Conventional farmers use injectable bovine recombinant growth hormone (GH) in cows to increase their milk supply. Many studies show that conventional milk does not contain significantly higher levels of GH compared to organic milk. Plus, 90% of GH gets destroyed by pasteurization. Bovine GH is biologically inactive in humans, thus it would not be expected to cause adverse health effects. On the other hand sex-steroids are used to increase meat yield. It has been postulated that ingested estrogen in food derived from sex-hormone-treated animals may lead to earlier development of puberty. Limited studies have not supported this hypothesis.
In conclusion, I will continue to use organically grown products and recommend them to my patients. In circumstances, when organic products are not available, I recommend to buy the freshest food you can find. Consider frozen or canned product, it will reduce the pesticide exposure but it may have high sodium content. Eat variety of food. Always wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Peel fruits and vegetables before eating that will also decrease pesticide content. Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry and fish because some pesticide residues are concentrated in fat.
Thanks, as always!