Your Healthy Harvest
|Your Healthy Harvest||Darrell Miller||06/14/05|
June 14, 2005 11:05 AM
Author: Darrell Miller (email@example.com)
Subject: Your Healthy Harvest
Your Healthy Harvest by Marjorie Flakowitz Energy Times, August 15, 2004
Once frowned on by conventional farmers, organic food has won respect from everyone concerned about the health of both the earth and the people who inhabit it.
Today, organic farming is considered one of the most rapidly growing areas of American agriculture. Organic foods sales topped $9 billion in 2002 and grew about 20%, up to almost $11 billion in 2003 (Organic Trade Association).
So when you buy organic, you join an expanding market that takes advantage of great-tasting, good-for-you food. Long ago, when the practice of farming was first devised, all farming was organic farming. So today's organic movement is bringing farming back to its roots.
But, safe to say, that is not what's motivating most consumers. A main reason for the popularity of organic food derives from the reassurance that organic foods, raised without artificial chemicals and pesticides, cut your exposure to toxic residues. A growing body of research shows organic food is richer in beneficial natural substances, too.
" Organic food and organic farming represent a philosophy that goes beyond just the quality of the food," says Steve Meyerowitz in The Organic Food Guide (Globe Pequot). "It strives to maintain the integrity of the entire food chain-plants, soil, air, water, animals and people. We are all part of the same ecosystem."
By eating organic, you eliminate pollution both from your body and the earth. Because our bodies are made of the animal and plant products we consume, our internal, physiological ecosystem and the earth's environment are inexorably entwined.
Chilling Arctic Evidence
As evidence of this connection, consider what's happened in the Arctic. Researchers who have analyzed Arctic water, ice, snow, soil and plants have found that chemicals used in farming and industry in other parts of the world have traveled north and accumulated in alarming quantity. How and if these chemicals break down depends on sunlight and the amount of organic matter contained in Arctic waters (American Chemical Society, 9/11/03).
" Once pollutants enter the water column, their behavior is poorly understood-particularly the processes that govern their lifetime and concentrations," says Amanda Grannas, PhD, a researcher at Ohio State University. "Such pollutants are now being found in wildlife, from fish to seals to whales, and even in people living in the Arctic."
Dr. Grannas and others looked at the pesticides lindane and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), two chemicals that have migrated to Arctic waters. Lindane is used by American farmers to treat seeds before they are planted. HCB, banned in the US in 1984, is still used in other countries to protect wheat from fungus.
The scientists found that sunlight at the top of Arctic waterways can help break down some pesticides. At lower depths, however, cut off from the sun's rays, pesticides can remain largely intact. In this research, lindane proved to persist much more readily than HCB.
" Lindane is one of the most persistent of pollutants," warns Dr. Grannas. "This could be because it's photochemically inert, whereas pollutants like HCB degrade relatively quickly. The main message is that pollutants can behave quite differently. These pollutants already affect local ecosystems, and could have repercussions for human health."
Organics Means More Benefits
Researchers are also finding that organic produce contains larger quantities of beneficial natural chemicals. For instance, one study (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2/26/03) showed that berries and corn grown organically can have almost 60% more polyphenolics. Polyphenolics are antioxidants plants use for protection against disease and which are good for humans. Researchers believe that when crops are grown conventionally, protected by pesticides and herbicides, they produce fewer of these substances. " This really opens the door to more research in this area," says Alyson Mitchell, PhD, assistant professor of food science at University of California at Davis, who led the research.
These scientists compared levels of total polyphenolics and vitamin C content in marionberries (a type of blackberry) and corn grown organically, sustainably or conventionally, and also looked at chemicals in strawberries grown either sustainably or conventionally. (Sustainable farming falls between the organic and conventional methods, and concentrates on farming that's self-sufficient-for example, feeding cows hay you've grown yourself, and then using the cows' manure to fertilize another crop.) They found that organic marionberries and corn had 50% to 58% more polyphenolics. The sustainably grown strawberries had 19% more polyphenolics. And all the organic produce contained more vitamin C.
Self-Defense for Plants
According to Dr. Mitchell, the organic crops contained the high levels of polyphenolics you'd expect to find in wild plants, suggesting that, on conventional farms, pesticides reduce the necessity for plants to make these protective, natural chemicals. " If an aphid is nibbling on a leaf, the plant produces phenolics to defend itself," she says. "[P]henolics guard the plant against these pests."
Pesticides kill insects like aphids and thereby reduce the antioxidants produced by the plant. " This helps explain why the level of antioxidants is so much higher in organically grown food," Mitchell says. "By synthetically protecting the produce from these pests, we decrease their need to produce antioxidants. It suggests that maybe we are doing something to our food inadvertently.
" We know [polyphenolics] are beneficial [to human health], but we don't know what types of polyphenolics are beneficial, or in what quantities," Dr. Mitchell notes. " Originally, the question was just really intriguing to me. I found that the higher level of antioxidants is enough to have a significant impact on health and nutrition, and it's definitely changed the way I think about my food."
Vitamin C in Oranges
Meanwhile, nutritional research on the vitamin C in oranges turns up similar results: organic oranges are richer in this antioxidant nutrient than conventionally grown oranges (Great Lakes Regional Meeting, American Chemical Society, 6/2/02).
The more common supermarket oranges are significantly larger than organically grown oranges, and they have a deeper orange color. Because of their larger size, "we were expecting twice as much vitamin C in the conventional oranges," says Theo Clark, PhD, chemistry professor at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.
But when he isolated the chemicals in the oranges and further refined his search with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), spectroscopy demonstrated that organically grown oranges possess 30% more vitamin C than the conventionally grown fruits-even though they are only about half as large.
Dr. Clark isn't sure why organic oranges are richer in vitamin C, but he says, "...[W]e speculate that with conventional oranges, [farmers] use nitrogen fertilizers that cause an uptake of more water, so it sort of dilutes the orange. You get a great big orange but it is full of water and does not have as much nutritional value.
" However, we can only speculate. Other factors such as maturity, climate, processing factors, packaging and storage conditions require consideration." Along with analyzing oranges, Dr. Clark and his research team questioned about 70 people to measure their concept of the nutritional value of organic oranges. In this survey, 85% of the respondents thought that organic oranges have a higher nutritional content than conventionally grown fruit.
Dr. Clark's laboratory work shows that "they were right on." In Dr. Clark's view, these issues are important because consumers have a right to know the real nutritional content of organic produce, and the fact that analyses show that organic fruit has much more vitamin C validates the benefits of eating organic.
Both plants and animals protect themselves from disease with many of the same chemicals. The natural substances that, in a farmer's field, defend vegetables from insects and microbes before they are harvested for your dinner go to work defending your body after you eat and digest them.
When you eat organic you bolster your health with more of these natural wonders. No wonder organic is becoming so popular!