How To Afford Organic Food Without Breaking The Bank? And Is It Worth It?
What's the difference between organic and conventionally grown foods? In a new analysis of 343 food studies, researchers from the UK's Newcastle University found that organic foods contained up to 69% more antioxidants, lower levels of nitrogen and pesticide residue (pesticide residues were FOUR TIMES more likely to be found in conventional crops), and nearly 50% less cadmium, one of three metal contaminants (along with lead and mercury) for which the European Commission has set maximum permitted contamination levels in food.
researchers found that organic foods have UP to 69% more antioxidants, lower levels of nitrogen and pesticide residue, and nearly 50% less cadmium
Antioxidant-rich foods help prevent the damaging effects of oxidation on cells throughout your body and have been linked to protection against chronic diseases, including cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, certain types of cancers, and numerous other health problems. Carlo Leifert, lead researcher on this study says: “This study demonstrates that choosing food produced according to organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants and reduced exposure to toxic heavy metals. This constitutes an important addition to the information currently available to consumers which until now has been confusing and in many cases is conflicting.”
The findings of the Newcastle University study contradict those of a 2009 UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned study, which found there were no substantial differences or significant nutritional benefits from organic food. The FSA commissioned study based its conclusions on only 46 publications covering crops, meat and dairy, while Newcastle led meta-analysis is based on data from 343 peer-reviewed publications on composition difference between organic and conventional crops now available.
So what does that really mean? Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Diet, says organic produce is a great choice "for the antioxidants, the reduced pesticide exposure, and because you're supporting sustainable agriculture." However, if buying exclusively organic doesn't fit within your budget, prioritize, allocating your organic dollars to those foods that are really worth the cost. In the end, remember that conventionally raised produce is still a better choice than no produce at all.
if buying exclusively organic doesn't fit your budget, prioritize, allocating your organic dollars to those foods that are really worth the cost.
So with that said, let's take a look and determine where your organic dollars would provide the biggest benefit to you and your family.
I'm sure you've heard plenty of stories (even prior to reading this blog post) about the risks of eating conventional chicken. However, in my opinion, there's no item that is more important on which to splurge and buy organic and/or grass-fed than beef. "Research suggests a strong connection between some of the hormones given to cattle and cancer in humans, particularly breast cancer," says Samuel Epstein, MD, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. The specific concern is that the estrogen-like agents used on cattle could increase your cancer risk.
Although there are strong regulations about the use of hormones in cattle, it seems that not all beef producers follow those regulations strictly, and some studies continue to find hormone residue in cattle. When you buy beef that’s been certified organic by the USDA, you’re not only cutting out those hormones, you’re also avoiding the massive doses of antibiotics cows typically receive, which the USDA says may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people. When you buy grass-fed beef, which is not necessarily organic, it also signals less antibiotic use. Grass-fed beef is healthier by virtue of being able to move and graze on grass, and therefore, decreases the need for treatment with antibiotics. It's also better for our environment, especially in terms of reduced greenhouse gas production and less reliance on petrochemicals.
Keep in mind that "organic" beef doesn’t guarantee the cows were pasture raised or grass fed. The USDA’s organic regulations do little to assure cows’ pasture access or intake of grasses. However, certified organic beef is much less likely than conventional beef to expose you to unwanted pesticide, antibiotic, or hormone residues. Plus, certified organic beef cannot have been genetically modified or irradiated. However, if given the choice between organic and grass-fed, I would choose grass fed, as it is simply better for you. Grass-fed beef contains:
- More omega-3’s—alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Grass-fed beef contains considerably higher levels of ALA, the same essential fatty acid found in flax, as well as EPA and DHA, the same omega-3’s found in oily fish. These three essential fatty acids are absolutely necessary for good health, especially cardiovascular and brain health.
- A more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, which is key to prevent excessive inflammation in the body. A healthy diet should contain only about 1 to 4 times as much omega-6 fatty acids as omega-3 fatty acids. The standard American diet, however, contains 11 to 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3, contributing to the epidemic of chronic inflammation-related diseases. The average omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of grass fed beef is quite healthy at 1.53, while the grain fed ratio comes in at a whopping 7.65!
- 2-3 times more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than what is found in non-grass-fed beef.
- Less total fat. A grass fed strip steak trimmed of all external fat contains about 1/2 the total fat as compared to the same conventional cut.
- More carotenoids—beta carotene and lutein. Grass-fed cows incorporate significantly higher amounts of two important carotenoids—beta-carotene and lutein—into their muscle tissue as compared to grain-fed animals. Beta carotene concentrations, for example, are 7 times higher in grass fed beef.
- An average of 3 times more vitamin E, an important antioxidant for defense against cancer, heart health, and vision, than conventional beef.
- Higher concentrations of energy-producing B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B12
If you can't afford to always buy grass-fed beef, try reducing the frequency with which you eat it. Eating beef once a week or once every few weeks may help with your budget, but also keep you healthier.
Are you looking for an easy way to purchase a wide selection (way more than Whole Foods or any grocery store I've seen) of grass-fed and pastured meats and wild-caught seafood? VOTED BEST ONLINE FOOD/PRODUCT SUPPLIER by Paleo Magazine, U.S. Wellness Meats is MY choice for grass-fed beef, lamb, wild-caught seafood, free-range chicken, pastured pork, as well as grass-fed butter, pastured eggs, grass-fed soup bones, raw cheese, etc. Their pricing is reasonable and I've found the quality of their products exceptional.
Like beef, for many of the same reasons (as listed above), grass-fed and "organic milk and other dairy products are worth the extra cost whenever possible,” says Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, an anesthesiologist and registered dietitian, and a Sarasota, Fla.-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. This is especially important for women and children who tend to eat and drink a lot of milk for its calcium.
The government’s organic stamp signals that milk-producing cows were not exposed to pesticides in feed, nor were they given antibiotics or artificial hormones. Overuse of antibiotics in livestock could potentially contribute to strains of drug-resistant bacteria that may affect humans.
Equally worrisome is the hormone given to some cows to increase milk production -- called recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. Although studies have found no significant difference between milk produced with rBGH and that without without, Gerbstadt and other experts recommend erring on the side of caution and avoiding it entirely. That way, there’s zero risk that any trace amounts of artificial hormones from milk will enter your -- or your child’s -- system.
If you find the cost of organic dairy is prohibitively expensive, try to find non-organic milk without rBGH, which may be the next best thing. Look for terms like "antibiotic-free" and/or “rBGH-free” on labels. Because not all manufacturers put this information on their labels, you can always call the company’s customer service number or visit its website to check.
In my opinion, chicken is one of the most important items on which to splurge and buy organic, which:
- Guarantees certain standards, like legally prohibiting growers from using sewage sludge as fertilizer, synthetic chemicals not approved by the USDA or GMOs in the production process. For the record, chickens labeled as "natural" don't necessarily meet these standards.
- May prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Conventional chickens are crowded together to such a degree that they are much more likely to produce infectious bacteria. As such, they are fed antibiotics as the norm. The problem is that this practice creates drug-resistant strains of bacteria. "USDA Organic" chickens, on the other hand, are allowed access to the outdoors and are given antibiotics only to prevent pain or death, after which they are no longer considered organic.
- May be healthier overall. For instance, one study found that organic chicken contained 38% more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Lower your risk of food-poisoning. A 2010 study showed that fewer than 6% of organic birds were infected with salmonella, compared with almost 39% of conventional ones.
- Contains significantly lower levels of arsenic, a well-known human carcinogen, which is found at highest levels in conventional chickens. Chicken producers add arsenic-based drugs to chicken feed in order to speed the birds' growth and treat certain infections. Roxarsone and other arsenic-based feed additives are banned in certified-organic chicken production.
Additionally, look for the word "pastured" when it comes to chicken, because "organic" doesn’t mean that the chicken had pasture access. A pastured chicken is allowed to wander, get exercise and eat nutritious plants, seeds, worms, and bugs. Pastured chickens will consume up to 30% of their nutritious calories in grass, which is why they have a higher vitamin and omega-3 fatty acid content.
Eggs are really good for you (especially the yolk, contrary to some so called "experts'" opinions). They can be one of the least expensive and most nutrient-rich sources of protein in the entire grocery store. However, with all the various terms that can appear on egg cartons, choosing what’s best for your family can be especially difficult.
For starters, you needn’t worry about growth hormones like those sometimes given to milk-producing cows. Egg-laying hens in the U.S. are not given hormones, additives or preservatives. Furthermore, eggs produced by chickens that were raised on non-organic feed don’t pass on pesticides to you. The USDA’s 2011 National Residue Program tested 497 egg samples and found no residues of pesticides, contaminants or veterinary drugs, including antibiotics, as laying hens aren’t routinely given antibiotics, and there is a mandated withdrawal period after they do get the drugs (to treat illness) before their eggs can be sold. The 2012 Stanford review concluded that there is “no difference” in contamination risk between conventional and organic eggs.
The bottom line is that it is fine to buy inexpensive, non-organic eggs to save money. All eggs, organic or not, are rich in nutrients and high-quality protein. Additionally, shell color has no impact on quality, nutritional value or flavor, so paying more for brown eggs is absolutely not necessary.
5. FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Of course, if you can afford it, buying organic as often as possible is the best recommendation. Unfortunately, for most people, however, buying all organic produce isn’t realistic, considering that there is a premium upward of 50% more on organic items vs. their conventional counterparts. So when it comes to fruits and veggies, consider spending a little extra on the ones that aren generally exposed to and retain more chemical residue than others, even after washing. You may want to consult the "dirty dozen" and the "dirty dozen plus" lists, which lists off the worst offenders, such as strawberries, apples, grapes, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as the "clean 15," a list of fruits and veggies that have the lowest pesticide load, and consequently are the safest conventionally grown crops to consume from the standpoint of pesticide contamination. These include onions, avocados, grapefruit, asparagus and grapefruit (among others). Keep in mind that produce with thick skin is usually the least tainted for obvious reasons. The majority of chemical residue that may be on bananas, pineapple, melon, kiwi or avocados, for example, likely ends up in the trash along with the peel anyway. And despite not having thick peels, broccoli and cabbage also tend to retain among the lowest levels of pesticides.
So the bottom line is that if you want to buy organic but have limited funds to do so, prioritize and spend it on any produce you buy that falls into the "dirty dozen.”
6. OTHER GROCERY ITEMS - EDIT
The majority of packaged products, like bread, cereal, pasta, or cookies are not worth the premium price tag, since grains generally have low concentrations of pesticide residue to begin with. In fact, I actually recommend that people stay away from boxed foods, organic or not. Many of us immediately assume that when the "organic" or "gluten-free" stamp is present, that product must be healthy. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are countless examples of products using organic ingredients, but being no better for you than their equally processed, conventional counterparts. If you're going to buy these products anyway, don't bother splurging on the organics. However, your best bet is to gradually stop eating processed foods and move further along the spectrum to a real food diet.
The one exception to this rule is rice. Buying organic makes sense since it can contain higher levels of pesticides (rice is grown in water, which carries more pesticide particles than soil). The good news is that organic rice won’t bust your budget, as it’s nearly as inexpensive as conventional, especially if you buy in bulk. The bad news is that organic is not the only thing to look for in rice. First, make sure you buy white rice over brown rice. That's right white rice is better for you. And second, choose a California white rice. Consumer Reports tests show that white rice made in California contains considerably less arsenic than its counterparts from other states and countries outside the U.S.
So in the end, purchase organics to the greatest extent you can afford. If you're used to budgeting for the things that benefit your family most, buy organics only when those benefits outweigh the cost, as this is the best way to keep both your family and your finances healthy. And in this case, this means splurging on grass-fed beef, organic chicken, rice and those fruits and vegetables that comprise the dirty dozen.
Sources: British Journal of Nutrition, National Academy of Sports Medicine, drweil.com