The topic of healthy eating and health foods appears to be quite popular in the media these days. From my experience as a Clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, there appears to be quite a lot of confusion, as well as a misunderstanding of what organic food really is. Why is it better than mass-produced, commercial food? What are the real differences? Is there any benefit in paying a little more for organic food?
It is my intention to answer some of these questions, and share with you some of my own research findings, as well as those of my colleagues in relation to organic food and healthy eating. Let us begin with the question, “What is Organic Food?”
ORGANIC FOOD AND ORGANIC FARMING
It is interesting to note that organic farming was a way of life in the majority of cultures around the world up to the second world war. It was only after the second world war that pesticides and artificial fertilizers came to light, along with the mass production of food concentrates for animal rearing. Organic farming is where no artificial fertilizers are used, and no modern synthetic sprays. Livestock are kept under as natural conditions as possible – battery houses are not permitted – and feed additives are banned.
Instead of relying on chemicals, organic farmers concentrate on building up healthy soils through the use of compost, animal manures, clovers and deep-rooting herbs. Plants grown on such soils are better able to withstand diseases. Organic farming, however, does not mean abandoning chemicals and doing nothing. It is all about producing a dynamic ecosystem between the harmful and beneficial organisms, leading to the growth of strong, health-giving crops.
WHY IS ORGANIC BETTER?
There are a number of reasons why organic food is better and healthier than mass-produced, commercial food. One main reason is the nutritional composition of organic food differs. Another reason is that the harmful chemicals sprayed on plants and fed to animals are avoided when we eat organic. It is also a lot friendlier on the environment, as there is a lot of destruction that has taken place over the years due to intensive farming practices. Let us examine these in order.
NUTRITIONAL COMPOSITION – ORGANIC IS RICHER IN NUTRIENTS
Researchers at Rutgers University set-out to disprove the claim that “Organic Is Better”. They purchased selections of produce at supermarkets and healthfood stores and analyzed for mineral content. Organic foods were those grown without the use of chemical pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Non-organic foods, referred to here as “commercial,” were grown with a variety of chemicals that enhance growth or destroy pests, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens (cancer-causing) and which cause greater erosion to the environment and wildlife. The idea that organic crops are nutritionally superior has been accepted largely on faith. There has been very little hard evidence to support this supposition.
Rutgers researchers expected the organic produce to be maybe slightly higher in comparison, but the results were astounding. The amount of iron in the organic spinach was 97% more than the commercial spinach, and the manganese was 99% greater in the organic. Many essential trace elements were completely absent in the commercial produce whereas they were abundant, comparatively, in their organically grown counterparts.
Comparison of Organic with Non-Organic Vegetables in the Amount of Minerals
INORGANIC MINERALS (milliequivalents per 100 g Dry Weight)
P Mg Na Mn Cu ASH Ca K B Fe Co
BEANS ORGANIC 10.4 0.3 40.5 60.0 99.7 8.6 73.0 60.0 227 69 0.26
INORGANIC 4.0 0.2 15.5 14.8 29.1 0.9 10.0 2.0 10 3 0
CABBAGE ORGANIC 10.3 0.3 60.0 43.6 148.3 20.4 42.0 13.0 94 48 0.15
INORGANIC 6.1 0.1 17.5 13.6 48.7 0.8 7.0 2.0 20 0.4 0
LETTUCE ORGANIC 24.4 0.4 71.0 49.3 176.5 12.2 37.0 169.0 516 60 0.19
INORGANIC 7.0 0.2 16.0 13.1 53.7 0 6.0 1.0 9 3 0
TOMATOES ORGANIC 14.2 0.3 23.0 59.2 148.3 6.5 36.0 68.0 1938 53 0.63
INORGANIC 6.0 0.1 4.5 4.5 58.8 0 3.0 1.0 1 0 0
SPINACH ORGANIC 28.5 0.5 96.0 203.9 237.0 69.5 88.0 117.0 1584 32 0.25
INORGANIC 12.3 0.2 47.5 46.9 84.6 0 12.0 1.0 49 0.3 0.2
Key: P = PHOSPHORUS; Mg = MAGNESIUM; Na = SODIUM; Mn = MANGANESE; Cu = COPPER; Ca = CALCIUM; K = POTASSIUM; B = BORON; Fe = IRON; Co = COBALT
Another long-term experiment conducted by Schuphan over a 12 year period also found that nutrients in organic food is higher than non-organic. Protein was up by an average of 18%, calcium 10%, and phosphorus 13%. By contrast, harmful nitrates were 93% lower, free amino acids 43% lower and sodium 12% lower.
ARE CYPRIOTS NUTRITIONALY DEFICIENT?
This is a question that I have been trying to answer for the last 3 years. Over the last 3 years I have accumulated close to 1,000 mineral analyses conducted in a well-known laboratory in the USA that specialises in this type of analysis. Unfortunately, I do not have the data ready at this moment in time as it is still being computer analysed. What I can say from preliminary results is that from a sample of 251 Cypriots, there were the following deficiencies:
MINERALS PERCENTAGE OF CYPRIOTS DEFICIENT
Once the analyses have been completed, I will write another article with the results and discuss their implications. Even from the preliminary findings, however, it is clear that Cypriots are quite deficient in some of the major and trace elements – 79% deficiency in manganese, 75% deficiency in copper, 61% in chromium, 48% deficient in nickel, 48% deficient in iron and 15% deficient in zinc. These are very significant mineral deficiencies that can have devastating effects upon health. All these minerals are the basic building blocks that the body uses for producing hormones, enzymes and the proper functioning of each and every cell in the body.
WHY ARE CYPRIOTS SO DEFICIENT?
Before we answer this question, it is important to know that these deficiencies are not specific only to Cypriots. Researchers in other parts of the world have found similar deficiencies in their own populations. The main reason for this is simply because we do not take in all the nutrients that our bodies need from the mainly inorganic produce that we eat. If we compare the level of potassium of the 5 vegetables that we looked at above, for example, we see that the non-organic produce has only 1-2 milliequivalents per 100 g, whereas the organic vegetables have from 13 to 169 milliequivalents per 100g – this is over 150 times the amount of potassium that are contained in non-organic produce. Is it then surprising that 40% of Cypriots are deficient in potassium. The same applies to the other minerals studied.
So, if a Cypriot is not eating organic produce, and if they are not taking a good-quality multivitamin supplement daily, then inevitably over a period of a few years they will fall into a downward spiral of becoming more and more deficient. This is happening to all of us, including our children on a daily basis. It never ceases to amaze me that we spend so much money on our children’s clothes and toys, yet rarely do we dare spend a few cents more to buy some good-quality organic produce, either vegetable or animal. It is time we undergo a paradigm shift, and begin thinking organic.
WHERE DO I BUY ORGANIC PRODUCE?
The type of shop that you will almost certainly find organic produce is in a HEALTH FOOD STORE. These shops specialise in organic produce of all kinds. I believe these now exist in all major towns in Cyprus. Certainly for the Health Food Store in Larnaca were I do most of my shopping from, it not only sells organic cereals (rice, millet, quinoa, oats, barley, all the flours and breakfast cereals), but also organic meats such as chicken and eggs, and more to order, as well as fresh free-range organic eggs.
There is even organic chocolate and organic wine for the connoisseurs. Every Thursday there is fresh organic fruit and vegetables in season, and special hampers can be made up to order. I regularly buy a hamper of fresh organic fruit and vegetables every week for about £10 – £12 which lasts my family for at least 3-4 days, and that includes four kids. This is not expensive compared to the normal mass produced vegetables and fruits, and at least I know that I am giving my family the very best nutrition that is presently available in Cyprus.
By the end of the year things will improve even further as more and more organic produce is being produced, but we must also make the decision to buy it regularly in order to support the brave efforts of the specialists that have made organic farming their business. Their livelihood, as well as our health depends on it!
It has been well researched that the pesticides and herbicides used to spray crops can have a cumulative effect in the body of humans. Most of these pesticides are neurotoxins and can cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. Eating organic produce avoids the ingestion of these chemicals. Animals too are fed a variety of food concentrates containing cereals, animal proteins such as fish meal, meat and bone meal, blood meal, poultry offal, as well as various growth promoters such as antibiotics, hormones and anabolic steroids, not to mention the various permitted additives that do not require a veterinary prescription.
By eating organic foods, both animal and vegetable, we can avoid the ingestion of all these harmful chemicals and foreign organisms. There is nothing wrong with eating organic meats, but personally I would think twice about eating meat which has been fed food pellets with various chemical additives, packed with fish and blood meal, poultry offal, growth promoters, antibiotics, synthetic vitamins and many bacteria and viruses. This type of meal I can do without, and I believe that you can too!