For Dr. Rimjhim Duggal Stephens it’s no contest: eating organic food just makes more sense. “Organic foods contain higher nutrient levels, leading to improved diets and overall health, and they also help reduce the risk of disease, including diabetes, stroke and heart disease,” says the senior health and nutrition strategist at Nature’s Path Foods. Dwindling nutrient levels in many conventionally grown and produced foods are a real concern, she adds.
“There are a range of essential nutrients that have been declining in our foods in recent years, including iron, zinc, calcium and selenium,” she says. “We think this can be traced to root damage caused by pesticides and herbicides. You may get lower yields with organics, but you produce a crop that has a higher concentration of the vitamins, micronutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants needed for good health.” She adds that it is always better to obtain vitamins from natural food sources because they come in naturally occurring combinations that make them more absorbable. “The vitamins present complement each other,” she says.
In addition to organic foods providing higher nutrition levels, reduced exposure to pesticide and herbicide residues leads to a more robust immune system and reduced rates of obesity. “Pesticides interfere with hormone production,” she says. “Limiting exposure to them leads to cleaner kidneys and livers, resulting in better toxin removal from the body and improved digestion.”
Registered dietician Desiree Nielsen adds that a growing body of solid research supports the argument that organic foods promote human health. “For example, a 2014 review published in the British Journal of Nutrition found organic foods contain higher levels of antioxidants, which are important for protecting cells from damage,” she says. Additionally, a National Center for Biotechnology Information study indicates that organic milk contains higher levels of omega-3, which is important for brain development in children and also helps regulate and normalize cholesterol triglyceride levels.
Despite the provable health and nutritional benefits of organic foods, however, many Canadians still harbour misconceptions about them. “One of the biggest is that a lot of people don’t think organic labelling means anything, but in Canada it is highly regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency through the Organic Products Regulations; consumers just need to look for the Canada Organic logo.”
If for no other reason, Nielsen says many Canadians may want to go organic for the taste. “There’s quite an association between nutritive value and taste, and research is beginning to show that some organics are more nutritious,” she says. “And the better food tastes to start with, the less need for artificial flavour enhancers.”
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