Organic vs. Conventional Foods: The Real Story!

April 29, 2019

"Making the investment to put the healthiest, all natural, organic foods in your bodies is a good use of your hard earned money."

In today’s episode, Dr. Nancy Lin PhD and holistic nutritionist takes an objective look at organic versus conventional foods and whether buying organic is important. We will also learn if there’s really a difference between organic standard produce or if it’s all hogwash. Dr. Nancy will take a look at which items we should purchase organic, and which are okay in their conventional form.

We’re going to define what organic is, clarify what really counts as organic discuss what’s real and what’s not when it comes to health benefits associated with eating organic. We’re going to talk about all the different organic labels that you see in the store, including what they mean, what’s important to know and which one might sound organic but really it’s not.

Dr. Nancy will also share easy hacks for discerning which fruits and vegetables in your grocery store are organic as well as her top organic foods, the must-have organic food list, and which fresh fruits and vegetables you can consider when eating organic. Finally, we’ll look at a few great organic recipes that you can make in less than five minutes.

Video Highlights.

  • 5:05: How important is it to eat organic.
  • 10:10: Organic Symbols and what they mean.
  • 18:42: Hacks to use when shopping.
  • 24:29: Reasons why you should consider eating organic.
  • 26:18: Eating organic reduces the toxins and inflammation in your body
  • 29:09: Reduces pesticide and toxin build-up in the body
  • 31:51: Organic fruits and vegetables are more nutritious
  • 33:42: Organic produce contains more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce
  • 35:56: Must have organic foods.
  • 44:38: Okay to buy fruits and vegetables that are not organic.
  • 47:34: Quick little recipe for organic foods.
  • 50:00: Wrapping Up.

How important is it to eat organic?

We know buying organic food can be expensive. But making the investment to put the healthiest, all natural, organic foods in your bodies is a good use of your hard earned money. In addition, making a commitment to take a few natural supplements every day to help fight off the affects of inflammation is incredibly important to your health.

They say a people without a knowledge of their past history, their origin or culture is like a tree without roots. Look at our great grandparents, our parents and their parents’ parents, look at how they ate. They all ate organically. Processed foods did not exist. They raised nearly all of their own food and their crops and animals. Our modern day farming methods that rely on toxic pesticides and harsh chemicals, herbicides and GMOs didn’t exist either and our ancestors didn’t see anywhere close to levels of cancer and obesity and heart disease, autoimmune disease, and inflammation that we are experiencing today.

That’s all changed now. The way that we grow crops and raise animals for food has changed dramatically; a huge paradigm shift. The number and the severity of health issues, especially inflammation caused by food has dramatically increased and now our bodies have changed because of that. It’s not that our bodies evolve to be more susceptible to inflammatory diseases, but the foods we eat have changed and as a result, we are getting sicker. This is why eating organic should be important to you: just the simple fact that the way we eat has shifted so much.

When we talk about organic in terms of food or farming, we are talking about foods that are raised, grown, or produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents. In the United States, a product is truly considered organic when it bears the USDA organic seal, has been certified organic, and contains 95% or more organic ingredients. To take it one step further, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has laid out very specific criteria for something to be certified as organic. These USDA standards include:

  • No conventional synthetic pesticides
  • No fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge
  • No genetically modified organisms (GMO)
  • No irradiation
  • Clear inappropriate buffers between the organic fields and nearby conventional farms.
  • A three-year minimum transition period for fields that have been previously farmed conventionally
  • Annual inspection by USDA approved independent certifier.

Even with these clear USDA standards, shopping for organic food can be quite confusing. When you walk into the produce section you’re bombarded by all fruits and vegetables, you don’t know which one is organic.

Organic Symbols and what they mean

The USDA Organic seal indicates that the product that you are buying meets the USDA organic standard. Food products have been making their own circular, golden seal that they just slap on the front of their products, so you have to be really careful and aware which ones are actually real.

“100% organic” is a circular seal that says “100% organic”, meaning the products are produced using exclusively organic methods, containing only organic ingredients. These products may use the USDA organic seal.

Organic products produced using exclusively organic methods that contain at least 95% organic ingredients may use a USDA organic seal. The other 5% of ingredients must be non-GMO and on the national list of acceptable ingredients.

Products labeled as made with organic, are products that include 70% to 95% organic ingredients and they may display “made with” up to three specific organic products on the front of the label.

So just because the word “organic” is used on the label, that doesn’t mean the product is 100% organic.

In fact, according to some sources, there is very little government oversight when it comes to organic farming. These sources say that as long as the farmer can show that they bought some kind of organic feed throughout the year, that serves as sufficient evidence that they are feeding their animals organically. There have even been rumors of organic farms and pastures switching tags on sick animals and administering antibiotics to them, or conducting other underhanded practices while still maintaining “organic” status officially.

So it’s best if you know the farms you are purchasing from, and carefully read your labels. You can never really know but the more knowledge you are equipped with, the better, so you can check that it says 100% organic if that really matters to you, and what the various organic labels—organic product, 100% organic, Made with Organic—really mean. So we’re trying to understand what the jargon is.

Products with less than 70% ingredients can only list the organic items on the ingredient panel. The USDA organic seal cannot be used. No organic claim is allowed on the front panel of the product either if it’s less than 70%. So when shopping for organic products, when you go to the farmers’ market or grocery store, you really want to look for labels that say USDA certified 100% organic.

Foods labeled organic or made with organic may still contain some non-organic ingredients. Remember, foods labeled natural or all natural or free range might be a healthier option than conventionally produced foods but they are not organic. It is not regulated, so please don’t be fooled into thinking that these foods are all organic. Some companies actually try to make their products appear organic even when they are not and this is known as green washing.

Green washing is found in the beauty industry, on products that we use, foods that we eat, and  household cleaning products that appear healthy for you because they claim to be natural, but often they are really made from toxins. It’s also done to toys that are made for babies that look wholesome, but are made from toxic plastic. Green washing in food as well. For example, a chicken label may say 100% all natural, but it’s filled with nitrates, hormones, and they sodium. Unscrupulous companies use words that seem organic or seem healthy to fool prospective buyers.

Hacks to use when shopping

If you’re ever in a situation where you can’t tell a product that you’re picking up if it’s organic or not, there are a few easy hacks that you can use to determine this. For example, you can take a look at the Price Look Up sticker on the fruit (PLU). This is a produce code or produce label that contains identification numbers found on fruits and vegetables, herbs, and a few other grocery items that makes checkout and inventory control much easier and much more efficient. When all else fails, a PLU code can be your guide to identifying if that tasty looking apple or beautiful ripe orange is conventionally grown (full of pesticides and grown with petroleum-based fertilizers in depleted soil) or if it is organically grown, (pesticide free, and not genetically modified).

PLUs for conventionally grown produce contain a four digit number starting in the 3000 or 4000 range. If an item is organic, this number will be five digits, and it will generally start with a 9. If it is genetically modified, you will see a five digit code as well, but the number will begin with 8 instead.

If it’s important to you to buy organic produce, you want to purchase produce with the PLU beginning with 9. You can use this little rhyme to remember: buy the nine, you’ll be fine.

Reasons why you should consider eating organic

Imagine putting gas into your car that is full of additives and chemicals that cannot be used by the engine, and are actually really harmful to it. Imagine putting water or molasses into your car engine. Over time what is going to happen? Your car is going to start acting up, your engine becomes harder to start, your gas mileage and your fuel efficiency plummet, and eventually your “Check engine” light comes on. Now think of your body as the engine. You cannot expect to fuel your body and achieve optimal health by eating food laced with toxic chemicals that your body does not recognize, and does not know what to do with. That is why organic clean food is so important.

Eating organic food helps to reduce the toxins and inflammation in your body. Organically raised plants and animals have not been treated with harmful and toxic chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, ionizing radiation, growth hormones or antibiotics. Pesticides and herbicides by their very nature, harmful. So don’t put it in your body. These are dangerous poisons that will set you up for issues down the line if you consume them. It is avoidable, but you have to know how to look for to avoid it. In fact, dietary intake of the pesticides that you eat from conventional foods accounts for most pesticide exposure.

The same goes for animal products. Most animals raised in conventional factory farms are fed a combination of soy and corn, 90% of which consists of GMO. These animals have been given feed treated with hormones and antibiotics, and dairy cows are given a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone called RBGH to increase milk production. The forced increase in milk production causes infections in the cows, and the animals are dosed with high levels of antibiotics. These hormones and antibiotics make their way into the animal and then eventually into your body, which can lead to issues almost immediately or down the road, including the increased development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Eating organic food has been shown to reduce pesticide and toxic build up in the body. In fact, studies have shown a dramatic decrease in chemicals stored within the body after eating organic for as little as 15 days. In other words,  you can decrease the chemicals stored in your body just by eating organic for two weeks. That’s awesome.

Most of you have probably been eating a conventional diet for many, many years, possibly for your entire lives, until you found out that organic is probably better for you. If you have been eating conventional foods, then you have been storing harmful chemicals and toxins in your body for years upon years and these toxins and chemicals may be contributing to your health issues such as chronic inflammation caused by excess toxins and chemicals stored in your body, including the inflammation of your joints.

Eating organic starts the process of reducing inflammation. By taking this step, and eliminating these harmful toxins and chemicals from your body, many people start to notice a difference in just a few weeks. That’s such good news. It’s controllable, it’s preventable, it’s irreversible.

Remember our equation of health and how we should be living:

Less Inflammation In + More Inflammation Out = Healthier you.

Also, adding powerful antioxidant formulas like Smarter Curcumin is another natural must to help lower your daily inflammatory load on your joints, on your gut, and on the rest of the body.

Organic foods and vegetables are also more nutritious than conventional raised produce. Recent studies provide clear evidence that organic foods are richer in key nutrients and antioxidants, and lower in  heavy metals, especially cadmium and pesticides. The presence of pesticides and heavy metals in our foods is commonly associated with a host of health issues that include specific cancers, asthma, ADHD, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and autoimmune disease. All of these are health issues associated with heavy metals and pesticides in our foods.

These toxins and heavy metals are also known to be endocrine disruptors, or substances that interfere with your normal hormone function and hormone balance. Endocrine disruptors can contribute to a number of issues, including reproductive issues, neurological disorders, thyroid disorders, and chronic inflammation.

Organic produce contains more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce. In fact, organic vegetables have about 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown vegetables. Organic crops have significantly higher specific antioxidants than conventional crops, including 19% higher levels of phenolic acids, 69% higher levels of flavonoids, 50% higher levels of flavonols and 51% higher levels of anthocyanins, all antioxidants. These antioxidants have been linked to decreasing chronic disease risk such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and even certain cancers.

Eating 100% organic may seem a bit daunting, or almost impossible at first. It can be really expensive and does take more planning, awareness, and education. But your health is so much more important, and you are worth it! Would you rather spend money on good, healthy organic foods going in now or on a hospital bed when you’re sick later? We recommend choosing the preventative option. You can start slowly, working your way into an organic diet step by step, one meal at a time, or a few items at a time.

Must have organic foods

As you start this process, there are a few foods that it’s extremely important to buy organic right away. We do not recommend buying conventional versions of the following products:

Coffee

If you follow Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet, you already know that she recommends limiting coffee. But if you’re going to have your morning cup of coffee, please make sure that it is organic. Coffee producers use more toxic pesticides to grow conventionally grown coffee than any other food we eat or drink. Coffee and tea are the most pesticide-sprayed food products, hands down. So if you drink coffee, that’s fine! But make sure it’s organic.

While it’s true that roasting the beans reduces the concentration of pesticides a bit, it does not get rid of them. Remember, if you’re drinking multiple cups of coffee every single day, that is a lot of harmful toxins entering into your body over the course of your lifetime. These chemicals affect your health, contribute to chronic inflammation and they are going to make you sick.

Dairy

We recommend avoiding all dairy products in general. But if you have kids who like dairy, or you really just love a little cheese from time to time, that’s okay. But if you are going to eat or drink dairy, opt for organic dairy products. This ensures that the cow did not receive any antibiotics or growth hormones and that they only consumed 100% organic feed. Organic dairy means the dairy you eat contains none of the harmful chemicals, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones.

Meat

It is important to be aware that conventional meat contains hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. The pesticides found in cows, chickens, turkeys, and other animals come from their feed, which is grown using synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. The negative inflammatory impact that hormones, antibiotics and additives can have on your body over time makes organic meats worth the extra money. If you’re going to eat meat, choose organic.

Here are specific fruits and vegetables that are considered must-have organics. They include:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

This list is the 2019 Dirty Dozen, compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Here are some examples of the toxin levels contained in some of these conventional fruits and vegetables.

Apples – 99% of conventionally grown apples contain at least one pesticide residue

Blueberries – Conventionally grown blueberries have been found to have 50 pesticide residues.

Celery – Celery juice cleanses are popular right now, but conventional non-organic celery was found to have over 64 different types of pesticides. If you are going to buy and consume celery, make sure that it is organic.

Cucumbers – Go organic when you by cucumbers or if you must go conventional then peel the cucumbers. The waxy skin holds all the residue. Conventionally grown cucumbers were found to have more than 86 different types of pesticides.

It is also recommended that you pay close attention to the rest of the fruits and vegetables on the list.

Fruits and vegetables that are okay to buy conventional

Sometimes organic just isn’t available. We get that! Fortunately, the EWG, producer of the Dirty Dozen List, also produces a Clean Fifteen list. These fruits and vegetables that contain the lowest concentration of pesticides, making them okay to buy and consume even if they’re not organic. The number one item on this list is Avocados.

Avocados are the cleanest fruit. The Environmental Working Group tested more than 3,000 conventionally grown avocados for chemical residues and found out only 1% of conventional non-organic avocados showed any detectable pesticides. They are so healthy, so anti-inflammatory and are loaded with essential nutrients including healthy fats, potassium, and vitamin K, B6, E, and C.

Quick little recipe for organic foods

Arugula pesto

Add this to steamed veggies or roasted veggies. It’s delicious, super easy and quick. You can use it as a sauce on top of spiraled zucchini for a delicious, healthy, pesto pasta. It looks beautiful, and it’s super healthy, and very anti-inflammatory.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic arugula
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 large cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest
  • Juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 splashes olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend it until smooth, or if you like it a little bit chunky, just don’t blend it quite as long. Put it on salad or use it as a spread on sandwiches, mix it with hummus, or use it on meats to flavor them. It is ver versatile, simple to make, inexpensive, and chock-full of good-for-you, inflammation-fighting nutrients.

Wrapping Up

We covered what it means to go organic, what organic is, and why eating organic is so important to your health. Remember that when we are talking about organic in terms of food or farming, we’re talking about the foods raised, grown, or produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents. In the United States, a product is considered organic when it bears a USDA organic seal, contains 95% or more of organic ingredients, and has been certified organic.

Be aware of the misleading labeling or green washing, which is mislabeling something that is not healthy and trying to make it sound healthy with claims like “all natural” or “100% pure”. Unless it is certified organic, it is not considered to be an organic product. Even though companies are going to do all that they can to make a product that looks beautiful, you have to make sure that you see the 100% certified organic or certified organic words on the label.

Organic products are healthier alternatives to conventionally grown products. They contain less toxins and heavy metals, less pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides, and they contain less chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. All of these are known to contribute to chronic inflammation, and significant health issues.

In addition, organic produce are more nutritious and contain 20% to 40% more antioxidants than conventionally grown products. Because they are so contaminated with chemicals, toxins and pesticides, we recommend avoiding a number of foods in their conventional form, including: coffee, dairy products, meats, apples, blueberries, celery, and cucumbers.

We also talked about the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. These lists are perfect to make sure that you’re avoiding the most dangerous and polluted conventional produce, and if you can’t eat organic use the clean 15 list to make sure that you have healthy, safe choices as alternatives.

Eating organic is a deliberate, intentional choice, that we hope you’ll consider. Our health is the most important gift that we have.

3 comments

  • Hi Nora. Studies suggest Curcumin can help boost immunity and may be beneficial for people who suffer from various autoimmune issues. Please consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

    Smarter Nutrition
  • Hi doctor Nancy I yes buy Curcumin I like to no if will Help Me with my autoimmune hepatitis or my liver end my inmuneSystem please respond thank you

    Nora
  • Dr. Nancy,
    I’ve read that eg., today’s broccoli has only 17% of the nutrients it had 50 years ago.
    Also Monsanto is used in all farms. Round Up in your veg. garden. 100% toxic. All the farmers crops take up the chemical from the ground, rain water. All. Toxic.

    Paul D Argent

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