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Organic Food And Weight Loss

Author: Peter Libby

Many of the books and guides that have been written on the subject of diet and nutrition veer into the realm of ethics and values with recommendations about what should be one.

This trend is clearly evident when it comes to discussions about organic food. While natural food advocates can debate the pros and cons of living an organic food lifestyle, its important not to lose sight of the science that can support either view.

What Is Organic Food?

Really the term "organic food" is redundant. Since the scientific term for organic refers to a compound that is based on organic, food must be considered organic. It would seem that something else is meant by organic when used in reference to organic food.

Most people agree that organic food is food that is grown and marketed without the use of man made chemicals such as artificial preservatives or pesticides. But since many of today's preservatives and pesticides are made with many natural substances, the line gets a little fuzzy.

There are many pesticides that are made with plant extracts that contain chemical that naturally fight the invasion of insects. However, it's not uncommon to think of organic food as being grown without the use of a wide range of pesticides and inorganic preservatives that are often used in the mass production of food.

Is It Better?

Organic food usually costs about 50-100% more than food that is no considered organic. For consumers that place a high value on healthfulness and purity of the food they consume, the cost may be worth the difference. However, there are people that wonder if organic food is actually healthier or more pure.

It is unfortunate, but there is no single answer that is correct or that applies to all non-organic or organic food that is available in today's marketplace. There are some organic farmers that take steps to ensure that their food is grown in a way the nutrients are maximized, the harmful compounds are minimized, and the food is delivered fresh. Other farms are known to use manure fertilizers that can potentially introduce E. Coli bacteria into the crops which can only be destroyed by cooking.

The producers of organic food often tout the lack of pesticides as proof that the food they produce is healthier than the food that is produced in large industrial farms. This can indeed be true. There have been thousands of reliable studies done over the years that show that high levels of inorganic compounds that are found in common pesticides increase the risk of a number of cancers.

It's a fact that the USDA has specific levels that are allowable for the concentration of pesticide residue in food that is sold in the markets. There is no evidence that, at the concentrations allowed (and frequently measured for compliance), there are harmful health effects. All food sold, both 'organic' and 'inorganic' must meet strict criteria before it can legally be sold to the public.

Aside for the possible toxin levels, are there differences in the nutritional levels of organic versus inorganic products? In this area the jury is even more divided.

A recent French study analyzed twelve different foods revealed that foods grown organically contain higher quantities of Vitamins C, E, A, and B-complex, as well as a number of essential minerals like calcium and zinc. Another study that was published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition revealed nearly identical results. When the mineral content of organic pears and apples were analyzed, it was shown that they contained lower levels of heavy metals than the produce that was grown by non-organic methods.

Processed food is normally fortified with vitamins and minerals that the "natural" food might lack. Cereal and commercially produced orange juice are perfect examples of this practice.

If the level of nutrients in both types is high enough that any excess is discarded by the body, and the level of toxins low enough to cause no harm, does it matter? All foods that aren't spoiled carry some benefit and some risk. It's simply a matter of degree.

Trade-offs are inevitable when deciding if the extra expense and time needed to buy organic food is worthwhile. Those decisions will be individual to each person, based on their own circumstances and views.

References: Pathophysiology of coronary artery disease P Libby, P Theroux Circulation 111 (25), 3481-3488 2005


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