The Organic Diet and Physical Health

Organic Food

As in generations past, many diets promote skipping necessary nutritional requirements while opting for fasting or binge eating that may damage the body. These are the accelerated weight loss plans that people recognize every day in advertisements. The best way to develop a long term diet plan is to make changes in eating habits that are acceptable for securing daily nutritional requirements. The organic diet plan does not abandon elements recommended in the six food groups. The modern generation is implying that people readjust to consuming high amounts of organic foods to preserve physical health. Eating organic foods dodges the harmful effects processed foods, which are those that are in a box, packaged, and may have unhealthy ingredients to lengthen shelf life.

What Does Organic Mean?

The term organic when it refers to the  Organic Foods Protection Act is the method that farmers follow to produce their products, and how they manufacture products (meat, vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy). Organic fruits, vegetables’, and seeds grow in nutrient-rich soil and must be kept separate from modern day produce. Farmers do not use pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage fertilizers and involve minimal amounts of bio-engineered genes. Organic farm management may use, but stringently limits the application of manufactured (synthetic) fertilizers and pesticides which include herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. This farming technique prohibits using human waste matter, plant growth hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives and genetically modified organisms.

Organic agriculture is a particular method of farming that has environmental benefits. These techniques increase the richness of the soil by applying nitrogen-fixing plants, or by spreading compost instead of synthetic fertilizer. They control pests by growing a greater variety of crops. Organic farming methods encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution, as there is less fertilizer runoff into adjacent waters. They use nature’s fertilizers, such as compost or manure  to feed the soil and plants. These farmers rotate crops, till the ground, hand weed and apply mulch to control weeds, to manage pests they use insects, birds, mating or traps.

To farm in the organic method follows the conviction that it is not necessary to use chemicals to manage pests, farmers do not inject their animals with growth hormones and do not routinely use man-made manufactured fertilizers. Following these environmentally friendly methods cost money which is what people are contributing to when they buy organic foods.

Are Organic Foods more Nutritious?

Organic food Whats the difference

Organic food
Whats the difference?

Organic food continues to be difficult to find in local Shopping Marts, and a short time ago consumers found them only in health food stores. As the demand increases, supplies of organic foods have increased which has in turn created confusion for shoppers. This uncertainty is evident as we watch people shop in the fruit and vegetable aisle. On one side of the store, there is a modern day apple. On the other side of the aisle, there is one labeled organic. Both apples are red, polished, and hard. Both contain fiber and vitamins both are free of cholesterol, fat, and sodium. How does someone decide which one to buy?  Most tend to go for the present day grown foods because they cost less. However, the question remains: Is organic food safer or more nutritious?

Organic foods contain large amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants and preserves the foods fresh and juicy taste. Chefs from all over the world use only organic ingredients which allow people to notice the improvement in taste.  However, taste preferences are difficult to assess, quantify and measure. Research in this area is ongoing.

A current study examines decades of scientific reports concerning the nutrient content of organic, non-organic and genetically modified foods. When food relates to nutritional quality, garden produce varies enormously, and that is true whether the foods are organic, non-organic or genetically modified. For example, one carrot may produce two to three times more beta carotene, which is the forerunner of Vitamin A than the one taking a seat right next to it in the vegetable market. The distinguishing characteristics in relationship to nutrient content are due to weather conditions, the ripeness of the produce at its’ harvest and the genetic makeup of the different varieties. The researchers’ conclusion was that organically and genetically modified fruits and vegetables are similar in nutrient content. This is an area that continues to be under serious investigation. Once again, when it relates to nutritional quality, produce varies enormously, and this is true if they are organic, non-organic or genetically modified.

It is extremely significant to understand that researchers have difficulty uncovering subtle effects of the environment and what people eat in relationship to health. A few studies include individuals who ate either organic or genetically modified food and then scanned for evidence that the decision made a difference in health status. Many examined the food itself for the nutrient content, as well as, levels of pesticide residues or harmful bacteria. The maximum length of most studies was fewer than two years and results can be easily dismissed as being inconclusive, stating, two years is not enough time to decide the health benefits or harm from consuming both foods. What may have a positive effect on health is that most studies report less pesticide contamination on organic produce.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Transgenic Organisms

GMO's are not all Transgenic

GMO’s are not all Transgenic

The term GMO is the scientific statutory name, “living modified organism” as defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, any living organism that possesses “a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology. The prevailing belief of producing a GMO is to change the genetic matter of an organic structures biological map or its genome. This may involve mutating, eliminating, or adding genetic material. When a genetic substance from a different species (animal gene to plant gene) has the insertion, the resulting DNA of the plant or animal has the label recombinant DNA (rDNA), and the newly formed species (animals or plants) are now transgenic.

GMOs are useful in biological and medical research, experimental medicine (gene therapy), pharmaceutical drugs, agriculture (herbicides & insecticides) and vitamin supplementation (Golden Rice). The term “genetically modified organism” can include targeting the introduction of a gene from one class into another. For instance, a gene from a jellyfish that has a fluorescent protein can be physically joined with a mammal which would reveal this fluorescence to recognize the position of the protein in the cell. These methods are valuable tools in many fields of study, including those who examine human pathological conditions or other living processes.

In agriculture genetically engineered foods have their origins in a laboratory and possess characteristics, such as resistance to pests, toleration to harsh environmental conditions,  improving a products shelf life or changing the animals genetic traits. There are hopes that GM crops will improve the plants nutrient content such as Golden Rice and someday enhance the flavor of the food. Since their first introduction in 1996, one fruit has been modified to be resistant to the Papaya Ringspot virus, some crops produce the Bt toxin which is an insecticide to ward off pests and others are tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate to kill weeds.

A genetically modified food is a plant or animal whose genetic material has been altered using biotechnological engineering techniques. Species that are utilized to genetically modify include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. As a noun, genetically modified organisms are the sources of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research to produce goods other than food, such as, medications and fuel.

GMO Critics

The Critics

GM foods are the outcome of the genetic engineering of plants or animals, which most at this time have a hardiness to plant diseases (herbicides) and resistance to pests (insecticides). At this time, biotechnology is currently under great examination from people who grapple with this method in relationship to food production. Research continues to investigate any potential harmful effects involving the health of people, animals or soil. The CDC, stresses “the importance of evaluating the allergic potential of genetically modified foods before they become available for human consumption,” in this study (Center for Disease Control, 2001).

Critics have objections to GM crops on various fronts, including environmental and economic matters raised by the fact that the   present goods are answerable to intellectual property or patent right.  GM products are topics involving many debates with respect to:

  1. The safety of GM food in relationship to physical health.
  2. Plants developing a tolerance to herbicides (glyphosate) creating weed resistance.
  3. The possibility/probability of cross pollination with organic crops or non-GMO crops.
  4. The possibility/probability of inter breeding with “organic species” such as fish.
  5. The belief that humanity needs GMO’s to address the worlds food & nutritional problems.

These are the controversies centering around GMOs which also include, whether producing them is ethical, should such food be labeled, is biotechnology needed to address world hunger, what are the environmental effects and how do intellectual property rights (patent law) effect farmers and market dynamics.  Following an organic diet will help avoid Genetically Modified Organisms and all of the unanswered controversial questions.

Food Labeling and the difference between “Organic” and “Natural”

The American Medical Association (AMA) concludes that there is no scientific rationale for the specific labeling of genetically modified bio-engineered foods. They further explain that the labeling of GMOs as a group and optional labeling has no value unless it coexists with buyer education. The AMA’s position against labeling is that the Food and Drug Administration cannot call for labeling because of variations in the production method, if the GMOs are not different or do not profess a safety hazard. Both believe that it is unjust to label all genetically modified foods when only a few may constitute a health risk. However, the contemporary voluntary management of statutes does not, according to the AMA do sound evaluation of discovering which GMOs are unsafe. Therefore goes the reasoning, labeling is of no purpose but the AMA suggests that additional pre-market management should be a concern.

On one side, the AMA is telling purchasers that GMOs should be further examined for any possible health risks before food corporations sell them to the people. On the other side, the AMA is saying that it is OK that foods containing GMOs not have a label. It is illogical to recognize the lack of certainty about the safety of GMOs and to recommend pre-market testing, but disagree with consumers having the right to know which foods contain GMOs. Why disallow the consumers’ ability to avoid GMOs, especially if they have not been proven safe?

The natural label

The natural label

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have no formal definition for the use of “natural” on food labels. However, the FDA has no complaints with the use of the term on food labels that say “natural” if it  is in a manner that is truthful, not misleading, and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.

“Natural” claims have become common on new foods and beverages. Natural and Organic are not interchangeable terms. People may see “free range” or “hormone-free” and “all natural” or “natural” on food labels, as there is no formal description. However confusing the advertising label may appear to people, these descriptions must be truthful, which means to follow the FDA guidelines, but  do not confuse these labels with the term “organic.”

The USDA allows the usage of the label “natural” to be placed on meat and poultry products that contain no added color or artificial ingredients. The label must describe the use of the word natural (minimally processed, no added coloring). The meat may be from a feed lot and the animal fed genetically modified grain under this label. At this controversial time, the FDA and USDA does not recognize any difference between organic foods, modern grown foods, and processed foods, which may be bred in a laboratory and contain GMOs.

Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic. The United States requires organic sealthese foods to have at least 95 percent organic ingredients to obtain the department of agriculture’s organic seal. Foods made entirely of organically produced ingredients can display a 100 percent label and will also have the organic seal. At this point in time, there are many growers who are marketing their own organic label along with the USDA seal.

Taking a look at the sticker on the produce is a quick way to tell if the fruit or vegetable is non-GMO. If the number has 5 digits and starts with a 9, the produce is organic and non-GMO. If the number has any 4-digit number, the produce is conventional. Producers rarely use, but, have the option of using a 5-digit number that starts with an 8 to signify a GMO crop.

The advantages and disadvantages of  following the Organic Diet

Nutritional Benefits

The organic food industry consists of the buyers understanding that organic food is healthier (larger nutritional content and fewer noxious compounds). Research on the nutrient content in organic foods change, due to variations in the soil and the culture related to the organic farming technique. Nutrient content also changes from year to year and farmer to farmer. Nonetheless, reports of multiple studies reveal that organic variations produce significantly higher levels of vitamin C, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus, than non-organic variations of the same foods. Organic foods are lower in pesticide residues and nitrates and higher in the above nutrients. With the exception of oats, wine and wheat, organic foods typically produce higher levels of important antioxidant phytochemicals (anthocyanins, flavonoids, and carotenoids).

In vitro research of organic produce consistently show that organic foods have greater antioxidant action, are more powerful suppressors of the mutagenic activity of noxious mixtures and repress the reproduction of certain cancer cell groups. Nonetheless, in vivo research of antioxidant action in humans has failed to confirm additional advantage. Investigations confirm that people who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower chances of developing a number of diseases. Nevertheless, it is not clear if these affects correlate to the quantity of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, to other lifestyle decisions, to other elements of these foods or to other determinants in people’s diets.

Organic poultry, beef, eggs and fish provide the body with nourishing amino acids that are required to enhance lean muscle mass and contain no growth hormones or antibiotics. Conventional vegetables are grown with pesticides and retain water, however, eating organic produce will help eliminate edema or “water weight”. Organic carbohydrates, meaning the fruits and grains, will increase cardiac energy as the liver processes these carbohydrates quickly to provide lasting endurance. The organic process increases energy levels and will help people with their ability to exercise. Organic vegetables are loaded with antioxidants eliminating the disease producing free radicals as they assist in removing them from the body.  In conclusion, our body is able to metabolize, and utilize the nutritional content from organic foods much easier than in processed foods and more information regarding the history is discussed in the Organic Struggle.

Physical Health

In 1996, the Research Scientists at the FDA prophesied that engineered foods would consist of rogue proteins that could be poisons that could give rise to allergies, nutritional insufficiencies and other illnesses. A tremendous rise in childhood food sensitivities in the US is often in the news, but most articles fail to think of a connection to a modern drastic shift in America’s nutrition.

To start the ball rolling in 1996, bacteria, viruses and other genes have been artificially injected into the DNA of corn, soy, sugar beets and cottonseed. These unlabeled genetically modified foods may give rise to risk factors, such as the triggering allergic responses, and data gathered over the preceding decade now implies that GMOs are giving way to greater sensitivity rates.

Currently there is minimal indication to support an increased rate of allergic response that has an association with consuming GMOs. This is because of the safety assessments to which GMOs are subjected to prior to marketing or selling them to the consumer. Premarket research and evaluation is the most effective tool to protect the public, and suggestions from many are to conduct independent longer term studies on humans.

GMO EvidenceIt should be said that hard and fast avoidance of all danger to producing an allergic response is not feasible. For every bio-engineered food product, the results of these ingredients are summarized and presented to the FDA to determine possible allergic reactions. In this fashion, the safety assessments that center on avoiding dangers which are anticipated and likely to produce an allergic response are very important. Research to examine more efficient methods of determining allergenicity is ongoing.

Present safety assessments are based on a weight-of-evidence” design, at which point each GMO is judged on a single basis using a variety of determinants:

  1. Does the gene encoding the new protein come from a commonly allergenic origin such as food (eggs, milk, hazelnut or peanut), a respiratory allergen (dust mite or pollen), or a touch allergen (latex)?
  2. How closely does the chain of the recently entered protein match that of a known allergen?
  3. Does the protein encoded by the transgene bind from people known to be allergic to the origin of the transgene?
  4. Is the stated protein extremely unyielding or can it be clearly broken down by digestion?
  5. Is the protein stable and abundant in the new food?

The compounds put to work with the modern day farming practices link to many known allergies and have also been associated with a few serious illnesses. The pesticides put to use in growing modern day produce consist of both synthetic and noxious chemicals which linger in the food after they are grown. Organic crops significantly lower the chances of ingesting these chemicals. Apparent health advantages from eating organic dairy goods have been demonstrated in regard to allergic dermatitis. Disputes that GM crops bring about include an increase in antibiotic resistance, increase the presence of toxins, fungi, or toxic metals within the body and increase disease risks. Others state that a genetically modified food degrades the foods nutritional value, produces new allergens and has a direct association with developing many physical illnesses.

Weight Loss

A new trend is growing that promotes the belief that following an organic diet promotes physical fitness and weight loss. Physical health directly relates to the foods that people consume and following an organic diet is a popular weight loss program. There is no need for fasting methods or weight loss pills to suppress appetite or speed up the metabolism. However, there are concerns about the feasibility or practicality of following this theory. Current research for using this method for weight loss needs further evaluation and benefits correlate to the idea of consuming a diet that has a focus on fruits and vegetables. The results may take time to manifest, and reports suggest that people include other fitness measures, such as an exercise program for weight loss. Following an organic diet that consists mainly of fruits and vegetables is beneficial for decreasing pesticide consumption, maintaining overall health and improving fitness levels.

A Healthier Planet

Organic farm management is safer, nurtures the land and preserves the entire ecosystem. The methods used in organic farm production protect the structure and nutrient content of the soil which maintains the soils health over time. In the long run, a healthier atmosphere leads to the ability to take care of a physically healthier body. Organic farming diminishes toxic waste in groundwater and promotes nutrient rich soil that assists plant growth and reduces erosion. Taken as a whole, organic farming decreases toxic pesticides that can have their final destination in tap water.

In more than a few US cities, pesticides found in drinking water have reports of being at hazardous levels, for many weeks. This report is a straightforward declaration from the Environmental Working Group.  Although, this is not to say that organic farm management methods do not use certain toxic chemicals at times.

In comparison to modern farming methods, organic farming utilizes fifty percent less fuel consumption and is environmentally friendly, says a 15-year study.  A different study from Oxford University reports that organic farming may not be more favorable for the ecosystem and point out that organic products such as milk, cereals, and pork create greater greenhouse gas emissions than their modern day counterparts. However, this same study agrees that the organic farming methods of cattle produce lower emissions. When people focus on a whole food organic diet, they are free from wondering food origins, and the mass production method is without a doubt transparent.

Affordability and Cost

One common concern with organic food is the price. Organic foods typically cost more than their conventional counterparts. Higher prices are due in part to more expensive farming practices. If people can afford it, buy local and organic. Farmers’ markets carry reasonably priced locally grown organic and conventional food. If people cannot always afford the cost of organic foods, try to spend the extra money when it comes to what the Environmental Working Group calls the “dirty dozen”:  apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers plus kale, collard greens and hot peppers . These delicate fruits and vegetables generally depend upon more pesticides to fend off insects in comparison to the hardier crops, such as broccoli and asparagus.

 Appearance and Shelf Life

 Another downside of Organic products is that because produce does not have that wax cover or contain preservatives they may spoil faster.  But please take into consideration that people are also not consuming these compounds. Some organic produce may appear imperfect, may be of odd shape, vary in color and differ in size. These foods exceed, if not, meet the same quality and safety standards as those of modern day conventional foods and are nutrient dense.

Food Environment

Food Environment

Making a choice to follow the organic diet method has a cyclical impact, meaning a healthier food environment gives birth to a physically healthier human being. Choosing to purchase organic products even if in limited amounts also contributes to promoting the lands clean bill of health. Organic farming utilizes the traditional methods and the gentlemen farmers are the pioneers of organic food research who conduct the studies and shoulder the expense. A few Universities  are developing organic research teams to assist farmers in the advancement of this agriculture but funding is sparse. Buying organic products will help support the cause to fund the quest to develop and improve innovations that promote physical health along with protecting the environment.

A Few Safe Food Practice Tips

  1. Thoroughly wash Vegetables and Fruits. Washing with water helps take away the traces of pesticides and compounds, thus, removes the bacteria and dirt from the surface of fruits and vegetables. Some chemical residue may not be removed by washing and people can peel fruits and vegetables.
  2. Buy Fruits and Vegetables in Season. Buy produce at the local farmers market and ask the manager at the supermarket when they receive fresh shipments.
  3. Grow an Organic Garden and Create Compose.  People will have no doubt of food quality or safety.
  4. Carefully understand and read Food Labels. If a product says it is organic, it does not necessarily mean it is a healthier alternative. Organic products can be high in calories, fat and sugar content.
  5. Choose many different Types of Foods from many different Sources. This activity reduces the chances of exposure to one pesticide and allows the buyer to receive a better combination of nutrients.

Why Buy Organic Foods?

Organic produce carries significantly fewer chemicals and pesticide residues and buying organic products limits this exposure. Some buy organic products to decrease the consumption of food additives. The organic food regulations forbid or severely restricts the use of processing aids, food additives, and fortifying agents commonly used in non-organic foods. This practice includes the exclusion of artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings, preservatives, and monosodium glutamate. Others buy organic food because of concerns over the environment. These types of farming practices reduce pollution, improve soil quality and conserve water. Some simply choose organic produce because they prefer how the foods taste.

Making a commitment to changing food habits is a start towards physically improving health. Beyond eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats, there are the moral questions associated with food safety/security, a consumer’s right to know, nutrition and land sustainability. I nurture a belief that people should consider how foods are grown or raised, when they think about making healthier food choices. There are many benefits to organic foods that cannot be matched by eating a conventional, processed food diet. Eating organic foods is a rational, logical choice which considers the benefits of the physical body and the health of the nation. For the history and psychology of food go to the article what is in my food.  To follow the organic diet plan is a choice that helps nurture the planet and promotes physical fitness. This diet is well worth investigating and implementing into anyone’s lifestyle. Health Psychology for Everyday Lifethe book.

Live  Well

© Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

video of Health Psychology and Therapy

Health Psychology


Cheryl Ann MacDonald, Psy’D.
Health Psychology of San Diego

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