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Conventional vs Organic Food: Is The Cost Worth It?

The market for organic food has experienced a dramatic increase over the last few years. In any grocery store, you will find a variety of vegetables and meats labeled organic.

But what is the difference between organic food and conventionally-grown food? Research seems to indicate that organic food is more nutrient-dense. However, much of that research has been reported by organizations with a vested interest in those foods.

This kind of research would seem to indicate that these foods should be eaten by those who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) because the diets utilized to remedy AFS make use of nutrient-dense foods. However, these reports may not be true.

This article will explore the differences between organic and conventional food, including whether AFS is best handled by consuming organic food.

What Is Organic Food?
According to the USDA National Organic Program, food that can be labeled organic is raised under certain conditions. Farmers who raise organic food don’t use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge in growing vegetables. Those who raise animals do not use hormones or antibiotics.

Their farms must be inspected by a government-approved certifier to ensure the farmers are following USDA rules and have truly organic farms. There is also certification for the companies that handle the organic food coming from the farms.

One of the benefits of foods that are raised organically is the presence of fewer pesticides. While organic farms do use pesticides, they are natural ones and not the kind that are typically used on conventional farms containing synthetics or sludge from sewage. These natural pesticides are said to be less toxic, but there may be some health risks.

The Cost of Organic Food
One of the drawbacks of food raised organically is that it is more expensive than conventionally raised food. This can be seen fairly easily if you compare prices in the grocery store.

However, a survey by Consumer Reports highlighted some facts related to this issue. This report compared the prices of more than one hundred products. Overall, it found organic food to be 47% more expensive than conventionally raised food. But there was a wide range of differences. In a few cases, food raised organically was actually less expensive. But in one case, the food raised organically was 303% more expensive. Not only did products varied widely in costs, but the variation also depended on where those who conducted the survey shopped.

Following these tips can help reduce the price difference between organic and conventional food:

Shop at farmers’ markets. This ensures the food you buy is local and fresher. It also allows you to talk to the farmers and determine whether they use organic principles in raising their food.
Join a food co-op. Most of the time a natural food co-op will give lower prices to those who pay the membership fee to join.
Join a Community Supported Agriculture farm. A Community Supported Agriculture farm can also bring you lower prices because the food is bought in bulk. It is bought from local farms where you can ensure it is raised organically.
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Benefits of Conventional vs. Organic Food
Nutritional Value
Many people believe organic food is higher in nutritional value than conventionally grown food. Research reported by organizations involved in the organic movement strongly supports this conclusion.

For example, one of these organizations reported organic food to have 63% more calcium, 78% more chromium, 73% more iron, 118% more magnesium, 178% more molybdenum, 91% more phosphorus, 125% more potassium, and 60% more zinc than conventionally grown foods. Other significant percentages were reported as well.

However, one thing that must be kept in mind regarding this research is that there are not many studies comparing the two kinds of food. The results are also controversial.

A doctoral dissertation submitted at Johns Hopkins University analyzed 41 published studies comparing organic to non-organic foods. In general, the organic foods were found to have 27% more vitamin C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, and 13.6% more phosphorus.
Other studies have not found this difference in nutritional value between organic and non-organic food. In fact, some studies actually found non-organic foods to have greater nutritional value.

Pesticide Residues
Other than nutritional value, one of the greatest benefits of organic food is the lack of pesticide residues. One study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed non-organic food could have as many as 14 different pesticide residues. These were present on between 12 to 62% of the foods. In organic foods, the range containing pesticide residues was 1-7%.

More Comprehensive Analysis
However, a study said to be the most comprehensive meta-analysis of existing studies comparing organic and non-organic foods was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers from Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the VA Paolo Alto Healthcare System analyzed 237 studies comparing nutrient levels or contamination from bacteria, fungi, or pesticides and comparing populations consuming organic or non-organic foods.

In general, the researchers found little significant differences in health benefits between organic and non-organic foods. Phosphorus was the only nutrient significantly greater in organic foods compared to non-organic. No significant differences in vitamin content were seen between the two types of foods.

One of the issues that spurred this comprehensive analysis of the research was the confusing array of studies that were not scientifically rigorous. Many of these studies were reported in trade magazines in the field. Publishing this kind of research leads to misinformation for consumers and a false impression of information for the public.

This review also found less of an impact of pesticides on non-organic foods than has been suggested in the past. The clinical significance of the presence of pesticide residue on non-organic foods is unknown because the pesticides found on non-organic foods were within acceptable levels for safety.

Complicating Factors
One factor that must be considered when looking at the research comparing organic and non-organic foods is that there is a great deal of subtle environmental effects on health. Health is not based solely on what you eat. And these effects are not always ones that can be specified and observed. Added to this is the fact that most of the studies conducted were relatively short-term. Most were two years or less. This does not give a sufficient amount of time to determine the effects of organic vs non-organic foods.


Another issue that confounds this kind of research has to do with the variability in vegetables due to factors other than whether they are organic or non-organic. There could be variability due to genetic factors, ripeness when the vegetable was picked, soil, or even the weather conditions. Because of these factors alone, the nutritional value of vegetables can be greater or lesser, not necessarily due to being raised organically or non-organically.

Adrenal Fatigue and Nutrition
Adrenal fatigue is an increasingly common condition that can play a big role in how foods and other elements affect your body.

What is adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a health condition that can result when your adrenal glands become overburdened and fail to produce sufficient cortisol. This can happen when your body becomes chronically stressed. This stress triggers the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to your adrenal glands secreting cortisol to fight the effects of stress. As stress continues, the adrenals become fatigued, unable to secrete enough cortisol. This sets in motion the series of symptoms that are known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), and they can become life-threatening.

These AFS symptoms are typically vague at first but can progress to significant levels over time. Conventionally trained physicians don’t usually assess or deal with these symptoms adequately. A better approach is the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. This approach says there are six organ systems in your body that are inter-related. If one of the systems is affected by stress, others also are affected. This allows for more comprehensive assessment and remediation efforts. Following this approach helps healthcare professionals discover the root causes of symptoms and helps them deal with the causes more effectively.

One of the foundations of remediation to deal with AFS symptoms is nutrition. Sufficient whole nutritious food is required. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are needed at every meal. Vegetables are the best source of good carbohydrates.

Reduce inflammation
Part of this emphasis on nutrition is an effort to curb inflammation. Research indicates inflammation is the basis of many symptoms of AFS. Eating a diet that eliminates the types of foods that increase inflammation is the goal.

There are quite a few adrenal fatigue diets available. The important thing is following the major tenets of these diets, the things they seem to have in common.

Cut down on coffee
One of the basic facets of every one of these diets is avoiding caffeine. Not just coffee, but any drink or food that has caffeine in it. Caffeine is a stimulant that puts additional stress on your body, particularly the adrenals. It also interferes with sleep, and sleep is an integral part of dealing with your adrenal fatigue.

Eat more protein
Another aspect of all these diets is to add protein. Many of them specify adding protein to your breakfast to keep the protein level high throughout your day. This helps to stabilize your blood sugar and decreases the likelihood of consuming sugary snacks during the day.

Avoid gluten
Avoiding gluten is another part of many adrenal fatigue diets. Many people may have an allergic response to gluten and don’t realize it. Gluten can also be a pro-inflammatory food. To determine if you have an allergy to gluten, try going without wheat and other grains that contain gluten to see how you feel.


Eat whole foods
Eating whole foods grown as organically as possible is another facet of nearly all adrenal fatigue diets. As research has shown, foods don’t have to be formally classified as organic to contain the nutrient density needed to help your adrenals.

Reduce sugar intake
Sugar and salt are two other foods to avoid consuming in large amounts. With adrenal fatigue, you may feel cravings for these two foods as part of your symptom picture.

Avoid processed foods
Getting rid of processed foods, most sugar, many grains, and dairy products is one part of the effort directed toward improving your diet. Increasing the consumption of foods, including some meats and lots of vegetables is another step.

Conclusion
It may seem that eating only organic food is the best way to take care of your body.

However, research shows that may not be necessary. Finding a local farm that doesn’t necessarily follow the strict guidelines for raising food organically, but that does use sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods may be just as good. And it will likely be less expensive than the organically-grown foods. Research suggests that these foods are often just as nutrient dense as the organically-grown ones.

More research needs to be done to discover the specifics behind whether the nutrient-density and pesticide-content of organic foods compared to conventionally-raised foods makes a difference.

We do know, however, that the emphasis on eating foods that are organically grown has increased in popularity over the past few years. The government has specific guidelines that must be followed in order for a farm to be classified as “organic”. Much research has been published by organizations that are vested in organically grown foods touting their superiority over conventionally grown foods in terms of nutrients contained.

However, most of this research is of questionable quality. Other research investigating numerous studies has concluded there is not a significant difference in nutrient content between organically grown and conventionally grown foods. One factor that does stand out in the organically grown foods is a lower level of contamination from pesticides. However, the tested levels of pesticide residue on conventionally grown foods are within acceptable limits in the vast majority of cases. What does this mean for you? It isn’t necessary to consume organic foods to get the nutrients you need.

 
Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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