Doctor's Note

This was the final installment of my five-part video series on organics. I hope you feel you have a better understanding of the science, rather than just the hype and anti-hype on both sides. To recap:

I’ve covered the issue of cadmium in our diet before in Cadmium and Cancer: Plant vs. Animal Foods and Male Fertility and Diet. Heavy metals are found concentrated in seafood and organ meats, but can also be found in certain supplements and protein powders.

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  • Theodore

    Given the effect on farm workers, it seems like organic is the logical extension of fairtrade principles if nothing else.

    • Julie

      Yes there are lots of reasons to eat organic: protect farm workers, the environment, wildlife, not to mention ourselves. Of course the pesticides sprayed don’t just stay in one place, either. If dioxins and other toxins are found in the North Pole, you can bet everyone of us are exposed to them right now. Why add to the ever increasing toxin load?

  • Julie

    I have a feeling that when the general population thinks “pesticides” they think fruits and vegetables. We need to wake up to the fact that almost ALL foods contain pesticides and the toxicity of those found in animal products are by far the worst. My “wake up call” happened 7 years ago while reading the book “What’s Toxic, What’s Not”. Dr. Ginsberg rated mercury, dioxin, PCB’s & persistent pesticides, which are primarily found in animal products, as 8-9.5 (out of 10) toxicity and risk. Modern pesticides that are in fruits and veggies were rated as 5 toxicity and 4 risk.

    • JohnC

      Unfortunately, organic crops don t escape the toxicity of animal products since animal byproducts are commonly incorporated into the soil to grow organic crops and plants can absorb toxics or contaminant from fertilizers used. It is legal to grow organic crops using waste from animal factory farms and there is no testing of these fertilizers or amendments. According to the OCA:

      “Organic agriculture has a dirty little secret.

      “Waste from factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
      (CAFOs), as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls them, is
      being used and marketed as an “organic” fertilizer.

      “That’s a problem, because factory farm waste is contaminated with
      hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, disease organisms, heavy metals, and
      other undesirable substances, including some disease-causing agents,
      such as e.g. Salmonella and E. coli bacteria, that may survive the
      composting process.”

      – See more at: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=16140#sthash.TGs9aDji.dpuf

      • Julie

        Good point. Best to get our produce from local small family farms and grow our own.

        • fred

          You can grow your own…but don’t use cheap garden/potting soil mixes…I bought some that was mostly sand with what was likely just enough sewage sludge (human) to met the nitrogen requirements.

          I gather leaves from trees and compost them over the summer to refresh garden soil.

          Also I compost all veggie waste…but those peanut shells and advocado shells don’t breakdown very well.

          • Julie

            Good point! High quality organic soil is a must!

        • JohnC

          One can also support the effort to ban factory farm waste from organic farming.

          Sign the petition to the National Organic Standards Board being presented by the Organic Consumer Association:
          http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=16140#sthash.TGs9aDji.dpuf

        • Alan

          I agree Julie. Here is what i replied to JohnC The ones i grow in my garden are not grown like that. And i believe that
          my produce and the produce from other gardeners or small farmers who do
          not grow theirs like that either and we have healthier food than the
          big organic producers who sell to the grocery store chains.

        • Alan

          When growing my food i use worm castings, and two minerals products of the earth that have around 100 minerals in each. Plus i do use an organic fertilize that is made with chicken manure from organically raised chickens.

          • JohnC

            Use of chicken manure to grow food I eat somehow doesn t sound appealing to me. For example, I have heard chickens may harbor cancer-causing viruses (search Nutritionfacts.org site for documentation).

      • Alan

        The ones i grow in my garden are not grown like that. And i believe that my produce and the produce from other gardeners or small farmers who do not grow theirs like that either and we have healthier food than the big organic producers who sell to the grocery store chains.

        • Julie

          We are stuck purchasing “big organic” in the winter, but come summer it’s our garden, our neighbor’s organic garden, the farmer’s market and a local farm stand. Sometimes it gets crazy trying to figure out what to buy where.

          • Alan

            I understand Julie. I grow a lot of my wife’s and my own food. We can and freeze. Also i grow white potatoes and store them in the pump house. I had then up until the first week in April and they were still in good shape. I grow sweet potatoes and put them in a closet. I grow winter squash and put them under the bed, They keep good also. I also have two green houses that i do not heat, but in the fall i grow Spinach, lettuce, beets and other cold weather crops in it and they keep well most of the winter. Carrots do real good in there. The key is to get the veggies started and up good before the days get under 10 hrs of sunlight. Eliot Coleman has 2 books that are a must read for any organic grower. One is ” Four Season Harvest” and the other is the “Winter Harvest Handbook.”

          • Julie

            Thanks, I’ll look into the books you recommend.

        • JohnC

          IMO, the local small farms will be better than the large scale corporate “organic” factory farm since who knows what large scale corporate farmers are doing. Some might be spraying raw animal sewage sludge from CAFO’s directly onto crops and calling it organic (that would be legal under present rules as long as they waited long enough before harvesting).

          However, small local organic farmer (that one might find at farmer’s markets) might be using commercially available OMRI approved fertilizers/amendment containing CAFO-derived animal byproducts.
          My experience with “local” organic small farmers has not been reassuring to me.
          One local “organic” farm said they used “fish emulsion” on their greens. Another would only say that they were organic approved. A few local farmers in my area, including ones operating CSA’s, did not respond to emails sent to inquire about the types of soil amendments and fertilizers they use.

          • the only thing is, there is only so much someone can do if they dont have their own property, house, or even their own living space. i currently do not have my own living space and very little income. i participate in my local organic food club for cheap organic produce, this is the best i can do, besides foraging in less populated areas for wild veggies and fruits(which i do). either way, even the “bad” organic food is A LOT better than the non organic food. foraging is probably best, even beyond growing your own food. I have read studies that show wild veggies in less populated areas are actually more nutritional than even the best home grown because they are grown by nature, provided everything that is necessary to survive and flourish with no human help. i do not know the link to that article though, it was a while back and i did not save it. a simple google search may do the trick(maybe).

  • joe

    Wish the video was on youtube also.

  • brec

    “…but hey, why accept any risk at all when you can choose organic—I agree …”

    –Especially when organic has the same or lower cost and and is at least as convenient to obtain.

    Oh, wait…

  • Jamie

    The good Doctor already spoke about it… :-)

    THE AMOUNT OF VEGGIES PER DOLLAR.

    If the price of organic vegetables and fruits is so high, that people would keep away from eating vegetables and fruits, it is more important that they will consume fruits and vegetables even not organic ones.

    I have seen a documentary about the eating habit of the low income in the US, as a vegan; with astonishment, I saw parents feeding their child industrialized food full of GMOs, salt, sugar, chemicals and fat, instead of natural food like fruits and vegetables!

  • Leslie Stanick

    Pesticides, herbicides, and other toxins are sprayed on fruits and vegetables and grains, including glyphosate, which is being found in women’s breast tissue, and well as in mothers’ breast milk, which is being fed to their infants. Glyphosate is a highly toxic chemical that is a danger to us all. I will not consume any Monsanto product of any crops sprayed with glyphosate or any other toxin. The price of organics is worth the safety. Also, supporting pesticide/herbicide etc sprayed crops, some which has as many as 8-10 different toxic chemicals applied to them, is willfully damaging ground water, and all the streams, lakes, rivers and ultimately oceans that the toxins stream into. Crops are sprayed with so many different types of chemicals, people are affected by ingesting tainted water, and breathing air born toxic chemicals which cause asthma and other serious respiratory diseases. Animals are poisoned, our bees are dying in alarmingly large numbers, birds, reptiles, small mammals, pets, all of us are affected by the chemicals used on food crops. My uncle died of lung cancer from pesticides, he was a farmer in Alberta. You can’t just look at the amount of deaths that are identified as food related cancers, pesticides can affect the body in many ways. I totally agree with the two submissions below.
    People’s pets suffer too…by walking through sprayed areas and getting the toxins on their paws and fur, and ingesting them by grooming themselves. I totally agree that people need to eat more vegetables, even if some of them are sprayed if they can’t afford organic, but I make organic a priority.

  • Will. M.

    Most people don’t enough fruit/veg as it is. I wouldn’t focus on making them eat organic before the get the minimum to stat with.

    • When you ask people to eat better you have people who want to change 1 thing at a time and people who make a total change and in between all the shades. In my experience I ask people to eat “clean, that means organic” to start with. when they just start to eat tomatoes and it is organic tomatoes they like it and continue the exploration to better eating.

      • Will. M.

        The demographics that can least afford fresh produce can’t afford non organic foods. I’d sooner have them eating fresh produce than putting the goal entirely out of their reach by telling them to eat organic. But on the larger topic, I take your point.

  • Wade Patton

    The more of us eating commercial organic will help price and availability of such, but can also empower the “lubrication” of the machine which gives us un-labled GMO’s and industrial meats. In Other Words: Careful what we wish for. I am quite pleased to now have a substantial selection of organic products in the supermarket (in semi-rural Southeastern US–where i drive 20 miles to get to a decent grocery store), but also participate in farmers’ markets and grow/harvest my own as much as possible.

  • dirtcoach

    Really some people believe that organic = less calories? On a similar note I had a friend argue with me that Margarine has less calories than butter and was the reason he used it. Yup Americans are idiots!

    • Thea

      dirtcoach: Well, to be fair to your friend, he/she may have actually seen lower calorie counts for margarine vs butter. You post prompted me to do some looking up on the site: Self Nutrition Data:
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/

      It appears that there are all sorts of margarines with varying fat %s. When I look at a tablespoon of a 60% fat margarine, I see 75 calories.
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/7190/2

      When I look at “Butter, withoutsalt”, a tablespoon seems to have 100 calories, which could be considered a significant difference depending on your outlook.
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/133/2

      But then again, 1 tablespoon of an 80% fat tub of margarine has 102 calories. :-)
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/10038/2

      That said, I do generally agree with your sentiment in the sense that: I would say that eating margarine because it seems to have less calories than butter is akin to drinking diet soda for a calorie reduction – seems pretty stupid because ultimately there are so many gotchas on the product that even if there is a calorie difference, you are shooting yourself in the foot. But I just couldn’t resist standing up for your friend, even if margarineally. (ha ha) I had to write this post just so I could make that joke.

      • HaltheVegan

        Now that’s something I would do (make a post just so I could throw in a joke :-) The world definitely needs more humor right now!

    • Josh

      dirtcoach: Please tell him that cigarettes have no calories either.

  • Lauren

    I would love to eat organic but it just doesn’t make financial sense for a family of six. What does make sense, though, is growing a little garden of our own in the back yard, so we can get a little taste of both local AND organic, not to mention some food education for the kiddos!

    • Alan

      Go for it Lauren. Get a book by Eliot Coleman called Four Season Harvest and you will be on the right track. Reading the book will be a big start but you got to get your hands in the dirt to get results.

  • Satya Vayu

    I’m a little dissappointed with the weak advocacy of organic foods here. The point about fruit and vegetable intake is important, and the possibly exagerated health risks of pesticide residue is worth making, but if the health risks posed to farm workers is taken seriously, as well as the poisoning of our waterways and wildlife, and the loss of topsoil and soil fertility, as well as risks to residents in spraying areas, the debt and dependance created in poorer farmers around the world, and the list goes on and on – then conventional foods should really be shunned and organic foods given all the support we can give if we imagine oursleves to be moral beings. Although I understand that the focus of Dr. Gregor’s blog is personal health, I consider it quite dangerous and unhealthy psychologically to ignore, or downplay, ethical choices that have such strong effects on other beings and our long-term environmental health. Also, I really don’t think most of the people who aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables are neglecting them because they think that only organic fruits and vegetables are worth it, and that they’re too expensive, so forget it. I think they neglect these foods because they’re used to eating unhealthy foods, and they need an overhaul of their tastes and food possibility/preperation education. The additional price of organic foods is really a very minimal cost when you recognize its moral and environmental necessity. If you give up eating out frequently, buying drinks, and buying other unnecessary frivolous things, you would much more than make up the difference for buying exclusively organic. Especially if you learn to cook and stop buying expensive pre-made products.

    • guest

      Well said. Your paragraph should be published as an editorial in every USA and world newspaper. I am serious. I hope this community sees that our environment is likely far more dangerous to our health than a piece of chicken or fish every once in a while, or an ice cream cone or shrimp appetizer. I’d much prefer to have to eat these just mentioned foods (i don’t) than live near a polluted area that compromises my heath. And I really think these polluted areas – air/water/chemicals – are more harmful than the foods we are told to avoid on this website.

    • Alan

      Right on !!!! The sad thing about it is that eating healthy is not hard to do and it is not expensive either. That is if people would come to learn and understand that Complex carbohydrates like grains, potatoes- white and sweet, or not fattening and are good for you. And throw on a pot of beans !!!!!!! And eat a large portion of green and orange veggies. Sounds good to me.

    • I absolutely agree that the ethical arguments for purchasing organic should be acknowledged as more of a priority for those that can afford it as well as the big picture implications that affect us all. I have also noticed that people seem to only focus on themselves. Dr Gregor mentioned this in his first video for this series, that people are mostly concerned for their own health. Sp I think that’s why he is addressing this particular aspect of organic. To get the masses to take action, you have to appeal to what they most care about. It is the first step – get them eating more produce overall and then next, for those that can afford it, move to choosing produce that has been grown in the most healthful and ethical manner.

  • Dominic Bolaa
  • Elaine Vigneault

    I wish all the studies mentioned would be linked in the notes about the video so we could examine them ourselves or share the interesting ones.
    OOOS! Found them :)

    • Thea

      Elaine: Look for the link to the right of each video that says, “Sources Cited”. Click that and then look under the video. :-)

      • Thea

        I’ll add: You can’t tell visually, but Sources Cited section does include links to studies on-line when available. The only way to tell that those links exist is to know to try them/hover over the text.

  • K.A.

    I have a question regarding organic meat and stuff like that. A friend of mine was arguing that conventional animal product may be unhealthy, but that’s why he only eats organic grass-fed beef, milk and free range chicken and eggs. He also argued that as the case with conventional veggies and fruits being full of pesticides, the same goes with conventional meat so it isn’t about being vegan to be healthy; it’s about eating organic and as “nature” intended it to be (for example: cows should eat grass, not grains and soy). I showed him some of the articles and videos here but he says that most of these studies compare conventional meat instead of the more healthier organic alternative. That made me think what science says regarding this issue, is it about being vegan or eating organic?

    Thanks!

    • Char

      I wonder the same. My sister says that the grass fed beef has the ‘right’ balance of omega fatty acids.

  • Rush

    Hi! I dont now where put questions of that type.
    So. What can you say about facts that a lot of vegan foods especially cruciferous vegetables bind iodine and it can lead to goiter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goitrogen

    Thanks a of for attention.

  • Char

    What about organic tofu? It seems all tofu I’ve purchased is non GMO, but a bunch is not organic. My limited budget is very limited. I pay attention to the ‘dirty dozen’, and the ‘clean 15’ but soybeans are not mentioned in either. I also eat edamame, is organic super important?

  • Elaine Vigneault

    I found this video because I was curious after talking to another mom at my son’s school. The class was going to have a special pancake day with pancakes, whipped cream, and strawberries. She told her son not to eat the strawberries because she knew they weren’t going to be organic. I had to wonder what motivates someone to avoid the serving of fruit but not the sugar, fat, or refined grains in this pancake meal? To me, the fruit was the ONLY healthy portion of the meal, even if it was conventional.

    • Thea

      Elaine: I’m 100% with you! It blows my mind when people refrain from eating the one healthy item on a plate… This site is dedicated to trying to fight the nutritional ignorance that exists in our world today.

  • Shaylen Snarski

    Then you have to account for GMO’s which are genetically modified to have some level of pesticides grown INSIDE them… Then you have to consider that these’s GMO “foods” are grown in lakes of herbicides, roundup, and so on…

  • Lt. Nimitz

    The prices charged for organic produces do not make any sense to me. 1kgs of apples 10AUD compared to 2AUD coventional ones, 1 kgs of beans at 10-12 aud/kgs for organic compared to 3-4 aud/kilos compared to conventional and so on. The bananas are a rip off organically produced 7-8 AUD/gks while conventional I can find them for 50 to 99 cents/kgs. Everything 4-5 times or over the price of a conventional grown produce. Not thanks. I just do not eat known conventional products which has been shown of retaining higher amount of pesticides even after been carefully washed. The rest all conventional.