For people still unsure whether or not to switch to organic foods, the latest news from the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables list might sway any remaining doubt. Pears have recently been added to the list of conventional produce most laden with pesticides, as reported by The Environmental Working Group. Given this, it seems an initial higher cost may help promote better health in the long run by avoiding exposure to fungicides and insecticides on a growing list of foods. In addition to produce, looking for the “USDA Organic” icon on other packaged foods, supplements and topical products is also important to help maintain and promote overall health.
- Is It Clean? Why Washing is Not Enough.
Conventional: Many people are still under the common misconception that thoroughly washing conventional fruits and vegetables will remove all pesticides and insecticides. While it may eliminate some residue on certain foods like apples and pears, pesticides are often absorbed into the foods directly from the soil it is grown in—so no amount of washing can eliminate it all. The US Library of Medicine has linked synthetic pesticides used in most conventional farming to chronic health conditions such as ADHD, compromised immunity and respiratory problems.
Organic: In order to be Certified USDA Organic, no prohibited herbicides, pesticides or fungicides can be used. Also, there is no usage of GMOs, hormones or antibiotics.
- Are Unnecessary Hormones Added?
Conventional: Some of the most common diet staples like meat, milk and eggs often contain excessive growth hormones, added to increase production and reduce cost. While the FDA has not officially condemned high levels of hormones in food, there is not enough long-term research to conclusively say it is safe—and many studies would suggest not.
Organic: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Organic Foods Production Act prohibits antibiotics and growth hormones under organic regulations. This includes the required use of organic feed for producers of meat and dairy products to prevent contamination.
- Are There GMOs?
Conventional: Over 90% of soybeans, corn and cotton, the most common crops in the US today, contain genetically modified organisms, according to the Center for Food Safety. Even foods labeled “natural” can still contain GMOs. Unless certified organic, conventional produce may have been genetically modified. Despite research suggesting harmful effects of GMOs, including the finding from The Institute for Responsible Technology which linked GMO foods to several conditions that may trigger or worsen gluten-related disorders like Celiac Disease, there has been ongoing FDA controversy concerning their safety.
Organic: Look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. The United States government prohibits companies to label products “100% / Certified Organic” if they contain genetically modified foods. On produce, check the PLU code. If an item is organic, there will be a five-digit number beginning with the number 9, according to Consumer Reports.
- Are Topicals Safe?
Conventional: In addition to considering what is ingested into the body, it is important to also consider what is applied exernally. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and therefore highly susceptible to toxic chemical exposure. Besides color additives, the FDA does not regulate cosmetic ingredients before they go to market, nor are there regulations requiring specific safety tests of individual products or ingredients, according to the latest information available from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website. Many ingredients commonly found in lotions, shampoos and cosmetics contain harmful ingredients known to be endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates. The endocrine system glands control production of hormones that regulate many vital bodily functions including heart rate, metabolism and even bone and tissue growth, according to WebMD.
Organic: Since the endocrine system plays such an important role in the function of so many bodily systems, and there is such a wide margin of gray area as to what is considered “safe” with conventional personal care products, choosing natural and organic products helps reduce the risk of contaminants, which can have significantly adverse effects on health. However, regulation remains a work in progress and companies can still mislead customers on terms like “natural” or “organic.” There are skin care companies that are taking this seriously and making the extra effort to have their products Certified USDA Organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified. Until there are firmer safety standards recognized universally, it is important to always choose products with the most basic ingredients possible and look for the Certified USDA and Non-GMO Verified logos.