Will eating pricier organic foods help you stay healthy? Some research indicates yes, some indicates no; however, many people have committed to buying organic foods because they feel they are better for their health and for the health of the environment. Organic farming practices avoid using toxic chemicals that have potential to harm humans, wildlife and the environment.
Just how prevalent are pesticides? Billions of pounds have been released into the environment since World War II and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the use of pesticides continues at a rate of 5 billion to 6 billion pounds per year. Many of these chemicals are toxic to humans and can remain in the environment for decades.
The Environmental Working Group (its Web site: ewg.org) contends that chemical residues found on food may increase the risk of cancers, may decrease sperm count and, because of their hormone-mimicking effects, may cause some children to enter puberty at a younger-than-normal age.
There is also concern regarding the effects of pesticides on infants. A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine stressed that “the effects of toxins on developing animals depend not only on the nature of the chemical but also on the timing of exposure.” Since infants’ organs are less developed, they’re more vulnerable to potential adverse effects.
Lactating moms may want to be vigilant over exposure to environmental chemicals. A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reports that “pollutant chemicals are readily detected in most human milk worldwide.” Another study links non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a type of cancer) in children to high levels of pesticide exposure.
According to the Archives of Environmental Health, breast cancer may be linked to environmental chemicals. A study revealed that fatty tissue in women who had breast cancer had higher levels of environmental chemicals compared to those women who didn’t have breast cancer. Some research has suggested that girls exposed to high levels of estrogen-mimicking chemicals while in puberty can be at higher risk for breast cancer later in life.
Although other research has found no link between exposure to pesticides and adverse health effects, many people are doing what they can to decrease their exposure. You can minimize your exposure by purchasing organic foods or foods containing the least amount of pesticides.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently passed regulations governing organic foods. To receive national certification, foods must contain no GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, and must be grown without synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Livestock and poultry must be raised without routine use of hormones and antibiotics, must be fed only organically grown feed and must have access to pasture. By October 2002, the USDA’s seal of approval will appear on organically grown foods.
The American Cancer Society recommends eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to potentially decrease your risk of cancer. However, fruits and vegetables also top the list of foods containing environmental chemicals that may increase your risk of cancer. Research done by the Environmental Working Group determined 12 out of 42 fruits and vegetables that had the most pesticide residue: EWG believes that consumers can cut their health risks from pesticides in half by avoiding conventionally grown strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, cucumbers, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes from Chile, and cantaloupe from Mexico.
Organically grown foods are available in health food stores and in some local supermarkets. Baby foods can be made at home, or you can purchase Earth’s Best organic baby food. If you can’t buy organic, wash your fruits and vegetables well, and be sure to peel your apples, cucumbers and peaches. Nontoxic produce washes can be found in many stores. If you buy conventionally grown cantaloupe, be sure to wash the skin, since a knife can drag chemicals from the outside into the center of the fruit. Since lettuce has high levels of pesticide residue, when using conventionally grown lettuce, always remove the outer leaves, cut off and discard the tips, and wash the rest thoroughly.
Although they may be more expensive and less readily available, buying organic foods can help you and your family be as healthy as possible. Choosing organic is a vote in favor of a healthier environment and a healthier future.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com