Consumers pay a premium for organic food, which can almost double your grocery bill if you don't shop wisely. But the health benefits greatly outweigh the extra price.
Organic produce has been studied, and found to contain more vitamins and minerals than conventionally grown counterparts.
The introduction of genetically modified foods makes an even stronger case for loading up your shopping cart with food that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides or created in a lab.
A growing number of consumers are jumping on the organic bandwagon. In 2009, the latest year figures available, the Organic Trade Association reported that organic produce accounted for 11.4 percent of all fruits and vegetables sold in the United States, a figure that is surely higher today.
The Added Problem of Genetically Modified Food
Corn grown in the United States no longer finds its way onto Russian tables, due to concerns over genetically modified (GM) crops. Nor do European consumers buy American-grown corn for the same reason. American corn, though, is still fed to European livestock.
Right now, according to the US Department of Agriculture Research Service, between 76 and 96 percent of American corn, depending on a particular state, has been modified to make it more resistant to pests and to withstand applications of Monsanto's Roundup, an herbicide.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient, is now widely disseminated throughout the environment. Everyone now has a little in their body. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh recently made an alarming find. Tadpoles from one frog species, and from one species of toad, changed their shape when exposed to this herbicide.
A study from the University of Caen in France raises more concerns. Lab rats were divided into two groups. One group was fed GM corn that also contained Roundup. The control group, which wasn't exposed to Roundup, was fed naturally produced corn.
Rats have a much shorter lifespan than humans. After four months, most of the animals had developed tumors. Pictures circulating on the Internet show enormous (for a rat) breast tumors that certainly make one think twice about ingesting genetically modified food. The study has been criticized for using a variety of rat prone to breast tumors.
However, the rats on a genetically modified diet also developed severe liver and kidney problems and had an increased death rate, compared to the control group.
It would be easy to avoid corn, if it wasn't present in nearly all processed food. But corn products or high-fructose corn syrup (a problem in itself) are ingredients in so many things, from cookies, to ice cream, to pizza, to ketchup and mayonnaise. And if you eat something containing corn syrup, it's a safe bet it's made from GM corn.
You may think a small bit of genetically modified ingredients shouldn't matter. However, the rats who developed the large tumors had a varied diet. Only some of it included GM corn, according to the French study.
In addition to the growing problem of genetically modified foods, conventionally grown produce is sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Chemical fertilizers are also used to make the crops grow big and fast.
But this comes with a price. The vitamin content suffers compared to organically grown crops, a fact confirmed by various studies.
In April of 2010 the Alternative Medicine Reviewpublished a compilation of findings that showed organically grown fruits and vegetables have significantly higher levels of Vitamin C, magnesium and phosphorus than conventionally farmed produce.
In the laboratory, organic produce measured higher in antioxidant capacity, as well as the ability to counteract carcinogenic poisons. Organic produce also contained lower levels of pesticide and nitrates, both of which have been linked to cancer.
What About the Dirty Dozen?
The title sounds like a 1960s film starring Charles Bronson, but The Dirty Dozen is a list of fruits and vegetables that carry the highest levels of pesticides. This list was compiled by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce the toxic burden on infants and children.
As you can imagine, thin-skinned produce contain the highest levels of toxins. Some people believe they are limiting their consumption of pesticides by avoiding non-organic items such as strawberries, apples, peaches and grapes. However, the chemicals sprayed on these crops find their way into the soil, where they are absorbed by the growing plant.