By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If you’re committed to a healthy lifestyle and doing everything you can to support and protect your cardiovascular health, then eating naturally produced, clean foods should be high on your priority list. If you’re not sure about how your food’s being produced, eating organic is a safe bet; it’s one of the few reliable ways to avoid toxic side effects of industrialized farming.
Food production used to be an annual process of nurturing crops and livestock and trusting Mother Nature to cooperate. But over the past 40 years, it has become less of an art and more of a science—an elaborate, performance-enhancing, and potentially dangerous one, at that.
Here are my top seven reasons to steer clear of products produced that way, and to – when in doubt – choose organic foods:
Avoiding exposure to the pesticides sprayed on many conventionally produced foods is one of the most important reasons for eating organic foods. These chemicals not only are toxic to the heart and cardiovascular system, but have been linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and birth defects.
That should come as no surprise, really, when you consider that pesticides are specifically created to kill or adversely affect living organisms. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that pesticides may pose some risk to humans, animals, or the environment—yet the agency still allows certain amounts of them in or on foods. That’s madness!
My advice is, don’t risk chronic exposure to these toxins. Whenever possible, choose fruits and vegetables that have not been grown, treated, or handled with these chemicals. Know, too, that some conventionally produce is “dirtier” than others. Familiarize yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list and shop smartly.
#2: Added Hormones
In industrial farming, synthetic hormones are often given to cattle to increase milk production and growth rate. Though studies are mixed on exactly how risky this practice is, I don’t think it’s ever smart to ingest artificial hormones when our bodies don’t need them. There’s too much potential to upset our own endocrine systems.
Progesterone, estradiol, and testosterone, for example—which are part of the injections given to cattle raised for meat—linger in an animal’s muscle, fat, and organ meats after it is slaughtered. At least one study suggests that when consumed regularly, even the so-called “acceptable” levels of those hormones may disrupt our own sex hormones. Recombinant bovine somatropin (rBST or rBGH), which is given to dairy cattle to increase milk production, contains insulin-like growth factor—a substance linked to tumor formation.
Eating organic is a sure way to avoid these dangers. Alternately, read labels and choose milk, butter, cheese or yogurt products that are “rGBH free.”
#3: Antibiotic Resistance
Between the side effects of hormone use and the crowded conditions in which commercially raised animals must live, farmers have been forced to use increasing amounts of antibiotics to maintain the health of their herds. In fact, Princeton University estimates that about 80 percent of antibiotics produced in the United States are given to farm animals!
Such massive use of these drugs simply speeds the evolution of antibiotic-resistant super bugs in both animals and humans, putting us in a precarious position against dangerous bacteria like E. coli and MRSA.
Organic meat has never been preventatively treated with antibiotics, making it a far safer choice.
Geneticially modified (GM) foods, or GMOs, have become so pervasive that it’s increasingly difficult to find processed food that doesn’t include them. Current estimates are that at least 75 percent of packaged products on grocery store shelves contain them.
Since the United States has been reluctant to adopt clear and obvious food labeling requirements for foods containing GMOs, eating organic is one of the few ways you can be sure you are avoiding these frankenfoods. Organic farming standards expressly prohibit the use of GMOs during production, processing, and handling.
Again, if organic isn’t in your cards, know which ingredients are more likely GMO – corn, soy, cottonseed oil, sugar beets, papaya, alfalfa and yellow squash. Look also for Non-GMO Project labels on food. Remember that corn is in most conventional animal feed, so choose organic meat, poultry and dairy products if you’re looking to avoid GMOs.
#5: Sewage Sludge
Have you ever wondered what happens to the waste that’s filtered out of water at treatment plants? If you’re not eating organic, it may be on your dinner table.
“Sewage sludge” (or “biosolids,” as the EPA calls it), can be incinerated or dumped in landfills, but it’s also likely to be recycled as a less expensive agricultural fertilizer, or to be packaged and sold as biosolid compost for landscaping or garden use.
Although reuse may seem like an eco-friendly means of disposal, this waste belongs nowhere near a garden, field, or even your lawn. It’s loaded with heavy metals, drug-resistant bacteria, chemicals—basically anything a household, hospital, or school would put down their toilets or drains. Those toxins then can be absorbed by plants and ingested by the animals or people who consume them.
#6: Humane Treatment of Animals
The 2009 documentary Food, Inc. made a big splash in exposing the dark side of commercial animal farming in the United States—in particular the deplorable conditions in which the animals are raised. (Watch a clip below of a chicken producer.)
Organic production practices require producers to raise and house animals in a way that “accommodates their health and natural behavior.” This includes making sure the animals not only have shelter, but also free access to the outdoors, shade, space for exercise, fresh air, clean drinking water, direct sunlight, and clean dry bedding.
The choice to eat organic foods, is a choice to allow animals to live in the manner most humane, comfortable, and appropriate for them. Of course, some conscientious farmers who are not certified organic do practice humane treatment of animals; purchasing foods that are labeled, “Certified Humane Raised and Handled®,” is another way to ensure that what you’re eating or drinking was produced in a more life-respecting manner.
#7: Demand Creation for Quality, Natural, Clean Food
Last, but certainly not least is this fact: When you choose naturally produced, clean food, you’re not just giving your body healthier fuel to burn. You’re sending a message to grocers and agribusiness giants that you don’t want food laced with known toxins and other substances that have been mired in decades-long controversy over safety concerns.
I have to admit, it’s been satisfying to see more and more stores—including Walmart—add organic foods to their shelves, or expand the number of organic items they offer. But there’s still a long way to go toward making clean and naturally produced food the norm.
Consistently eating organic or otherwise clean foods is the best way to create lasting change in how our food is produced. Smart businesspeople always follow the money—so the more cash you can spend on truly natural or organic products, the more pressure producers will feel to switch to safer and more sustainable agricultural practices. And many food producers already do practice cleaner, more sustainable standards, even if they aren’t certified organic; the momentum is there. Find farmers and manufacturers you can trust, and when in doubt, know organic’s got your back.
- American Cancer Society. Bovine Growth Hormone. Accessed August 11, 2016.
- Center for Food Safety. About Genetically Engineered Foods. Accessed August 12, 2016.
- Center for Food Safety. What Is Sewage Sludge? Accessed August 11, 2016.
- Non-GMO Project. Genetically Modified Organisms: Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed August 12, 2016.
- Organic Consumers Association. Growth Hormones Fed to Beef Cattle Can Damage Human Health. 1 May 2007. Accessed August 11, 2016.
- Priesnitz , W. The Real Dirt on Sewage Sludge. Natural Life Magazine. Accessed August 11, 2016.
- Princeton University Dining Services. Antibiotics in Your Meat: What’s the Big Deal? Accessed August 12, 2016.
- Richardson, J. Sewage Sludge as Fertilizer: Safe? Food Safety News. 4 Oct 2010. Accessed August 11, 2016.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organic Livestock Requirements. Accessed August 11, 2016.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Basic Information About Biosolids. Accessed August 11, 2016.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pesticides and Public Health. Accessed August 10, 2016.
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