Are organic foods healthier?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff Mom Never Told You from howstuffworks.com. Molly: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen: I'm Cristen.

Molly: Cristen, a few months ago we recorded a podcast about Michelle Obama and the duties of the First Lady. We talked about how at the time, she had just planted a garden at the White House to teach local kids about the importance of planting their own vegetables, organic foods, locally grown foods. It seems like a pretty noble thing to do but like most things, she's come under a lot of criticism for it.

Cristen: I think people are a little angered at the fact that she is pushing organic foods during a recession when a lot of people are trying to cut their budgets. The fact of the matter is, organic food is often more expensive than just the run of the mill normal food. There's a stat that I found in the Journal of Food Science that says that organic foods generally cost 10-40 percent more than regular foods. That could be putting a pinch in the wallet.

Molly: It's hard to know when you go to the grocery store, is it worth shelling out the additional buck or two? Or is it okay just to stick with the regular stuff? That's our topic for today. Are organic foods healthier?

Cristen: We're not really talking about the environmental impact of organics. This is just having to do with sort of weighing the costs of if you're on a budget, are you doing yourself a disservice to not buy organic or it okay to buy non-organic foods, if you really can't afford it? Let's start off with what exactly constitutes organic food according to the USDA.

Molly: The definition of organic food is not so much what it is but what it isn't. It isn't food that's grown with any sort of fertilizers, like sewer sludge fertilizers or synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides, no genetic engineering, no growth hormones, no antibiotics. If you're buying organic meats like some hamburger or chicken, those animals have to be guaranteed some outdoor time so that their happiness radiates though the final food product.

Cristen: Right through to the hamburger. Delish. All of those restrictions, Molly, add up to higher costs in the grocery stores. They might have to pay more to say hand weed instead of just spraying a bunch of chemical pesticides that could kill the weeds with a lot less manpower.

Molly: It's a lot more labor upfront.

Cristen: But going back to this question of nutrition, the jury's still out on whether or not organic foods on the whole are actually more nutritious for us to eat. Some say yes. Some say no.

Molly: The thing is, is that organic food's become mega popular in the last few years. The thinking is, is that if so many more people are eating this organic food, we should all be healthier, right? Instead, the obesity rate has skyrocketed. Clearly, people are maybe not even eating vegetables to begin with so there seems to be some evidence that as long as you're eating any kind of vegetable, that's good for you.

Cristen: If you're just trading up your normal chocolate chip cookies for organic chocolate chip cookies, you're probably not doing yourself that much of a favor.

Molly: No, it seems to be bad.

Cristen: Molly, let's dive right into ten foods that you might wanna think twice about buying just normal. You might wanna shell out a little bit extra money for these and go organic.

Molly: Basically, if you're okay with a few pesticides in your system, there are some foods that absorb more of them than others. There's some foods that even when they're grown in sort of what we think is the non-organic pesticide way, they're not as affected by the pesticides. My brother likes to say he's pro-pesticide when he decides not to buy organic.

Cristen: Is he a rebel rouser?

Molly: He is. These are the ones that pesticides really get into.

Number ten on our list is meat, unless you're a vegetarian, Molly, or a vegan. I digress. Like you said, when you're talking about the USDA certification for organics, organic meat cannot have any growth hormones or antibiotics or any unnatural substances like that that were used to plump up whatever animal, cow, chicken, pig, what have you. That could be good for us when if we happen to eat the meat because eating meat with antibiotics could create an antibiotic resistance, strains of bacteria that could be very harmful for us down the road.

Molly: We also, when we buy organic meat, we show that we care what those animals were fed during their lifetime. Basically, the label ensures that the animals themselves didn't eat anything that might've had fertilizers or pesticides. They were fed grain that is pure so they don't have the chance of having disease inside of them before they're killed to become inside of us; the circle of life.

Cristen: Circle of life. Along those same lines, one thing also to look out for and to consider buying organic are dairy products because these products are coming from these same animals and if they were raised with the growth hormones, antibiotics, etc., it could easily get passed along through their milk, their eggs, and all of that.Molly: If you're committed to buying these dairy products, you have to look sort of at the products that come from those dairy products. If you buy yogurt, ice cream, butter, cheese, if you 're really committed to staying away from non-organic milk products, you've gotta investigate those as well.

Cristen: Among those, we've got eggs. Eggs is number eight on our list of things to possibly buy organic because this all goes back to pesticides in chickens going to eggs getting inside of our bodies. One interesting thing, Molly, is the question of whether or not white eggs are healthier than brown eggs. There is no difference.

Molly: No, the color of the egg simply depends on the breed of the chicken. All of these things, the dairy products, the meat, the eggs, also I think, I wasn't just joking when I said that the animals are happy before they die. The thinking is, is that a happy chicken that maybe has some room to walk around is gonna lay a better egg. If you've ever tasted a free-range egg and you really can taste a difference then the thinking is, is that the time they spent outside just goes straight into the happy egg.

Cristen: And goes into our happy breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, you might wanna watch out for coffee as well because coffee can be sprayed down with all of these pesticides and then pesticides get into our morning cup a joe.

Molly: Yeah, so that's a bad one. As a special little bonus, Cristen, if you buy organic coffee likely it's fair trade, which means that, the people who made it were compensated fairly. We're trying to focus more on the health so we'll get away from the social and environmental issues of that.

Cristen: Still, you know, you're treating yourself better and then hopefully by buying fair trade organic coffee you're treating other people better as well. Molly, next on the list, it's kind of sad because right now we're in Atlanta, Georgia our state fruit, as many people know, is the peach. The Environmental Working Group lists the peach as the number one fruit with the highest concentration of pesticides.

Molly: It makes sense; very thin skin.

Cristen: Very thin skin. That's the thing that you wanna think about when you're questioning whether or not to buy organic fruit is a.) Are you going to eat the skin as with a peach and an apple many times, or can you not peel the skin off with grapes and strawberries? Those kind of fruits with the thin skins, with the skins that you're gonna eat, you're probably not gonna be able to scrub off all of the pesticides and waxes that are used on the fruit. You might wanna think about buying organic with those.

Molly: Especially because with a peach, most of the nutritional value is in the skin. If you're buying juices that are made with fruits with skins, you've kind of look for a little there too. Organic grape juice is probably a safe bet for kids because the skins of the grapes are so thin and so juicy.

Cristen: So juicy. You'll have fewer pesticides leaking than into the juice and into our little tot's body. Speaking of tots, tater tots, potatoes.

Molly: Potatoes are worth the extra organic dough.

Cristen: Because these are getting a double dose of poison, Molly. It sounds sinister because you have to spray pesticides on the potato vines above the ground and then the soil gets a dose of fungicide to prevent disease from the tubers that we then eat.

Molly: I don't wa nna say that fungicide is all bad. Without fungicide, we would've had another potato blight like they had in potato famine in Ireland. There's no good organic to combat a fungicide. That means that the price of organic potatoes is worth that if you don't want fungicide in your potato.

Cristen: According to the Environmental Working Group, sweet potatoes do rank a little bit lower on the pesticide scale than normal while potatoes that we think of. If you are trying to scrimp and pinch and save, maybe go for the sweet potato and rest a little easier with that.

Molly: Cristen, do you like fajitas?

Cristen: Fajitas? Si, si senorita.

Molly: I love fajitas because I love red and green peppers.

Cristen: Molly, going back to that fruit thing that we were just talking about, peppers have such thin skins and you're not gonna peel those peppers before you eat them.

Molly: No, do you wanna know some other vegetables that have a high level of pesticide residue?

Cristen: Shoot.

Molly: Celery, green beans and tomatoes.

Cristen: I would bank on tomatoes because going back, it's got that thin skin. I have never tried to peel a tomato and I hope that I never have to. Once again, with the fruits and with the vegetables, it's going back to this common theme of which skins can you either peel off or which skins are gonna be thicker to resist the pesticides or what other harsh chemicals from seeping into the inside of the fruit or vegetable.

Molly: Which leads us into the next one, which is something that doesn't even have a skin. You eat it straight off the ground.

Cristen: Straight off the plant?

Molly: Yeah, which is why you should probably buy this organic, leafy greens.

Cristen: Leafy greens, spinach. I was so disappointed with that because I love spinach. Spinach has the highest number of pesticides of any vegetable tested in the environmental working group study on organics.

Molly: Organic growers would grow spinach by using traps, non-toxic repellants and mesh nets. It's very carefully cared for spinach, if you buy it organic.

Cristen: Then to almost round out this list, we were talking early about watching out for what goes into fruit juices that you're giving your kids because you wanna give your kids the best. Furthermore, you also wanna treat your babies right with the food you're giving them. Organic baby food might be a good option to splurge on because a lot of that is just mashed up fruits and vegetables, which babies love to eat. We wanna make sure that the fruits and vegetables being all smashed and mashed are not full of little smash and mashed up pesticides.

Molly: Yeah, particularly because adults who are fully-grown. They can handle little pesticides. Babies are so tiny.

Cristen: These have tiny brains.

Molly: Brains aren't developed. When they eat some pesticides, it affects them more harshly. Although, I mean, I turned out fine.

Cristen: And you were full of pesticides?

Molly: Probably.

Cristen: Now that we've [inaudible] eliminated all of my grocery list and now that I'm gonn a have to spend $5,00.00 on dinner tomorrow. Let's talk about ten foods that are a-okay to just buy normally. Let's just go through them right quick. In alphabetical order, we got asparagus and avocado; two things that I love.

Molly: Guacamole because you get down into that skin pretty deep, it's fine.

Cristen: You've got the good fats, good to go. Next up bananas because they've got a peel; you can peel off that skin. Broccoli, cabbage, which is kind of surprising because we heard about the leafy greens which are bad but maybe because cause cabbage is so much thicker. If you think about the comparison between a cabbage leaf and spinach leaf it can make more sense.

Molly: It's a world of difference. Kiwi, the most adorable named fruit, perfectly fine.

Cristen: Mango is basically happy.

Molly: Also adorably named.

Cristen: Adorable and delicious. We have onions, papaya and pineapple. .

Molly: Pineapple, nothing's getting through that skin.

Cristen: No, not even my dull kitchen knives sometimes.

Molly: I'm not getting into there sometimes. Those [inaudible] don't need to really splurge for the organic version. If you do have a particular favorite, like let's say all you eat is pineapple, then maybe you do wanna buy the organic because the last item on these ten foods you should buy organic list was your favorite.

Cristen: Right, Molly. The one thing I will say, the one thing that I buy consistently that is organic is the oatmeal that I eat in the morning. I eat it every morning for breakfast, Monday through Friday, whenever I get into work. It's just kind of depressing to eat your breakfast in a cubicle. That's okay. At least it's organic because I'm eating it everyday and it's a little bit better for me.

Molly: Therefore, it's worth a splurge to you.

Cristen: It's not too much. It's just oatmeal. It's not like the difference between buying and say regular and organic steak. It's just a few cents more.

Molly: I think that to go back to earlier point we made, Cristen, is if you're trying to make your grocery list and now you feel disheartened because so many delicious foods we need to buy organic - the most important thing is that you do eat vegetables; that you do each things that are sort of found around the borders of a grocery store like unprocessed foods as opposed to the stuff that's in the middle that is all loaded up with preservatives and other weird, we don't even know, sort of things. We don't know where they cam from.

Cristen: Maybe before you start questioning or not you should buy organic or non-organic, you should start looking at that grocery list like you said and start figuring out ways to add more, pump in more fruits and vegetables or whether they'd be canned, frozen, fresh and get healthier in general because like we said, "Is an organic chocolate chip cookie that much better for you than a normal chocolate chip cookie?"

Molly: No.

Cristen: If you eat a package of them, probably not.

Molly: We endorse vegetables. Vegetables and fruit. There we go.

Cristen: Mission accomplished.

Molly: Now I know what to do when I go in a grocery store and I don't have to blow my budget out of eco-guilt.

Cristen: It sounds good. If you wanna learn more about organic food, you can head on over to how stuffworks.com. Yeah, there's a great article that might strike you as familiar when you see it. It's called Ten Foods that you Should Buy Organic by Marth Barxsdale. If you have any questions or comments or just wanna chit chat, feel free to send me and Molly a line at momstuff@howstuffworks.com.

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