Time To Put On Your Grown Up Pants

Please tell me you’ve heard this saying before. If not, let me try another one such as “quit complaining and just make a decision already?”

If you haven’t heard this then you’ve been living under a rock. All kidding aside, this whole debate about which is healthier for you organic or conventional (regular) foods, has gotten out of hand. So that’s why I’m saying put on your grown up pants, quit complaining and just make a decision as to which one you prefer, because realistically, we all have our own opinions. In this article I’ll discuss some hot new research that regarding organic foods, USDA legal standards on organic foods, why organic isn’t that sexy, some potential sexiness to organic foods and my thoughts on all of this.

If you’ve read some of my articles, you know I’m very straightforward so time to put on our grown up pants, make a decision and move forward in your health and fitness lifestyle.

1. Hot and Sexy New Research

Organic vs. conventional foods has been a hot topic of discussion lately in the health realm, almost as hot as Keeping up with the Kardashians. New research by Stanford University scientists have weighed in on the maybe not so sexy side of the debate after an extensive examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods. They concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be a lot less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria. The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats. Uh oh! Looks like organic fruits, veggies, and meats aren’t going to get the bros extra muscle mass or any leaner.

The researchers found that conventional fruits and vegetables have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits at levels that it says do not harm humans. In the study, researchers combined data from 237 studies, examining a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. For four years, they performed statistical analyses looking for signs of health benefits from adding organic foods to the diet.

2. USDA Legal Standards for Organic Foods

Let’s start off with the USDA Legal Standard for Organic Certification. The Requirements generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:

– No human sewage sludge fertilizer used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals
– Avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (i.e., fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of biosolids
– Use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (usually three or more).
– Keeping detailed written production and sales records
– Maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products
– Undergoing periodic on-site inspections

Now let’s look at the USDA legal standard for Organic Food. The following are the requirements:

– Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that don’t involve modern synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods also don’t contain genetically modified organisms, and aren’t processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
– If livestock are involved, the livestock must be reared with regular access to pasture and without the routine of antibiotics or growth hormones
 In the United States, a food can be labeled organic if it contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients

Now after looking at the USDA legal standards for organic foods, I’m not going to get into detail about all this, instead I’m going to ask you to put on your grown up pants, take whatever you want from these requirements, interpret it the way you want, make a decision, and apply it to your decision after you read the entire article.

3. Why organic isn’t that sexy

Basically the biggest argument about organic vs. conventional food has been that organic is healthier, more nutrient dense, and therefore can do wonders for your health and possibly grow bigger muscles. But, there has always been skepticism because there has never really been any data proving this information and organic is more expensive. Who knows what’s true without data to back up the claims. This could easily be a marketing gimmick so people can just spend more money. But to be 100% clear, there’s no data on the influence of organic foods on exercise performance, no data on the influence of organic foods on inducing muscle mass, nor is there any data on the influence of organic foods on the health status of athletes.

A 2009 study by Dangour et al. showed there’s no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally grown food products. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and most relate to differences in production methods.

“A 2012 study by Dangour et al. proved that evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foods.”

In 2005, Deakin University, Australia, mailed a random questionnaire to 500 adults (58% responded). The majority of the participants believed that organic was healthier, tastier, and better for the environment than conventional food. So it seems that with this lack of data, consumers still believe that organic is better. What it really comes down to is their personal values.

4. Some potential sexiness to organic foods

Okay, time to back off the organic bashing and focus on some interesting points when it comes to the benefits of buying organic. The Stanford University researchers noted a couple of studies that showed that children who ate organic produce had fewer pesticide traces in their urine. They also found that organic meat contained considerably lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised animals did, but bacteria, antibiotic-resistant or otherwise, would be killed during cooking.

There are some other findings that are showing that consumers buy organic because of the motivation to reduce exposure to pesticides, especially for pregnant women and their young children. Three studies published last year, by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan identified pregnant women exposed to higher amounts of pesticides known as organophosphates. The researches followed these women’s children for years. In elementary school, those children had, on average, I.Q.’s several points lower than those of their peers.

To add to this research by Crinnion Wj showed that organic foods have lower levels of insecticides and there’s clear evidence that indicates reduced pesticide exposure levels in consumers of organic foods.

5. Wrapping this up

Not everyone can access or afford buying organic or from local farmers, so be realistic and eat what you can afford and have access to. The bottom line to this organic vs. conventional foods drama is pretty ridiculous in my view. There’s no data on the influence of organic foods on exercise performance, no data on the influence of organic foods on inducing muscle mass, nor is there any data on the influence of organic foods on the health status of athletes, so I’m not spending my money on organic. Maybe some of the bro’s will because they think it will get them more shredded or gain more muscle mass because of all the marketing claims. And as far as the pesticides, it’s really not that big of a deal in my opinion because the data isn’t strong, but it’s your decision. What all of this really boils down to is everyone’s personal values and opinions. Make the decision that’s right for you.

Chris Martinez is a training and nutrition consultant. He owns Dynamic Duo Training, with his twin brother Eric. He’s also a fitness and nutrition writer, fitness model, and a coach that loves helping people reach their goals. Visit Dynamic Duo Training

6. References:

Dangour et al. Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. AJCN 2009.
Dangour et al. Nutrition-Related Health Effects of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. AJCN 2012.
Crinnion Wj. Organic Foods Contain Higher Levels of Certain Nutrients, Lower Levels of Pesticides, and May Provide Health Benefits for the Consumer.
Lea E and Worsley A. Australian’s organic food beliefs, demographics and values. Br Food J 2005.
Chang, Kenneth. “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce.” New York Times. 3 Sept. 2012.
Kleiner, Susan. “Power Eating Clean.” ISSN. 2012.