There tends to be quite a debate about the pros and cons of organic food. Some research studies come out claiming organic food is healthier in terms of nutrient density compared to no organic food. For example The Soil Association’s document “organic farming, food quality and human health report” concluded that the evidence supports the hypothesis that organically grown crops are significantly different in terms of food safety, nutritional content and nutritional value from those produced by non-organic farming and recommends that consumers wishing to improve their intake of minerals, vitamin C and antioxidant phytonutrients while reducing their exposure to potentially harmful pesticide residues, nitrates, genetically modified organisms and artificial additives used in food processing should, wherever possible, choose organically produced food.
However other research claims that organic food is not healthier than nonorganic food, see here for more on this. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8174482.stm
What seems to be missed in the debate on organic versus non-organic food is the irrefutable fact that most non-organic foods are covered in a chemical cocktail of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. There are over 400 chemicals licensed to be sprayed on crops throughout the UK, often times in combination. A field of wheat can be sprayed up to 8 times from the time it’s sown to the times it’s harvested with multiple chemicals. What we are starting to realise is that these chemicals are a leading cause of insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes.
There is now a huge body of evidence that links persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to diabetes. A study in 2006 study found a “striking” dose response relationships between six POPs and the prevalence of diabetes in U.S. adults. The higher the levels of these POPs found in their blood, the higher the prevalence of diabetes. In a follow up study published by the same authors PCBs and organochlorine pesticides were the most strongly associated with the prevalence of diabetes.
The mechanism behind the link between pesticides and diabetes is as follows. These PCBs and organochlorine pesticides are similar in chemical structure to your body’s own oestrogen. Therefore they are capable of mimicking oestrogen in the body and binding on to oestrogen receptors on cell membranes.
We now know that the beta cells in the pancreas that release insulin have oestrogen receptors on them. These beta cells can become stimulated by the widespread environmental contamination of pesticides leading to increased insulin secretion with or without the presence of sugar in the blood and leading poor blood glucose maintenance. If you have constantly high insulin levels the cells become insulin resistant and you can develop diabetes or become obese.
Now earlier I stated that most non-organic foods are covered in these chemicals and the Environmental working group have published a list called the dirty dozen. This is a list of 12 foods that are most contaminated with pesticides and definitely should be avoided unless they are organic. These include:
- Spinach, kale and collard greens
- Imported grapes
They also published a list called the clean 15 – this is a list of foods that had the least amount of detectable pesticides on them. The Clean 15 include:
- Cantaloupe melon
- Kiwi fruit
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Sweet potatoes
Some evidence from the past
The Haughley Experiment was the first scientific comparative study of organic farming and conventional chemical-based farming, started in 1939 by Lady Eve Balfour. In the book “The Haughley Experiment” you can find a reference to a school in New Zealand who began farming their own organic food. They had a noticeable reduction in children reporting to the school nurse and a significant reduction in injuries among rugby players, particularly ligament injuries.
So not only does eating organic foods protect us from consuming chemicals that may lead us to be overweight and obsess or develop diabetes, they may also protect our bodies from illness and injury. Bob Rakowski sums it up nicely when he suggests that if you are not buying organic food you are supporting and industry that is poisoning every man, women and child on the planet.