SHOULD YOU CONSIDER BUYING ORGANIC FOODS?

                        

The popularity of organic products is skyrocketing in the United States. Between 1997 and 2011, U.S. sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these products. Organic foods are generally grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones, and they are often twice as expensive as their conventionally grown counterparts. For instance, you’re in the supermarket eying a basket of sweet,  juicy plums. You reach for the conventionally grown fruit, and then decide to pony up the extra $1/pound for its organic cousin. You figure you’ve just made the healthier decision by choosing the organic product. But have you? This is a common perception — perhaps based on this high price, or simply on one’s naturalistic fantasies—that organic foods are better for you than the conventional ones.

In order to provide some guidance, a recent extensive review of this subject was provided by a team from Stanford University[i]. They evaluated a large number of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods.

In their study the researchers sifted through thousands of scientific publications and identified 237 of the most relevant to analyze. Those included 17 studies (six of which were randomized clinical trials) of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally. There were no long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food; the duration of the studies involving human subjects ranged from two days to two years.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers noted that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this had little health significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a finding also of questionable benefit.

The review yielded scant evidence that conventional foods posed greater health risks than organic products. While researchers found that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables, organic foods are not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides. What’s more, as the researchers noted, the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits. Two studies of children consuming organic and conventional diets did find lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the significance of these findings on child health was also unclear. Additionally, organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the clinical significance of this again is questionable.

So what can we conclude from all this? First, there is no real evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods. If your taste buds are highly sensitive and you can discern a better flavor with organic foods (most people can’t), then go ahead and buy—provided you can afford it! On the other hand, there is no convincing proof that minor increases in pesticide or chemical residuals in conventional food are an actual threat to health, but long-term studies should help to provide more definitive information. In the meantime, you can minimize the risks of such contamination by simply washing off conventional foods prior to preparing and serving them at the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] Smith-Spangler CS, Brandeau MS, Hunter GE, et al.

Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?

A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):348-66.

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MORE REASON TO AVOID COLA DRINKS

Over half of the U.S. population consumes soft drinks that are sufficient in quantity to increase their risk of cancer! Why is this? According to an analysis by Consumer Reports and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, colas and other brown appearing soft drinks are often made with caramel color, which contains 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel), a potential carcinogen.

Consumer’s Union recently analyzed the contents of a spectrum of soft drinks and found that 4-Mel levels ranged widely, from 3.4 to 352.5 micrograms per 12 ounces. Although there is no federal limit for the amount of this substance in food and drinks, California, which takes an active role in this issue, requires manufacturers to label products sold in the state with a warning that they could be at risk for cancer if one consumes more than 29 mcg of 4-Mel per day.  General estimates of daily soda consumption range from one 12-ounce can to almost 2.5 cans. That leads to the conclusion that, at such a level of consumption, we could expect to see 76 to 5,000 cases of cancer in the U.S. over the next 70 years, resulting from 4-Mel exposure. Although this appears to be a small risk, I conclude that any such food additive, whose only purpose is to color food or drink, should be eliminated from one’s diet.

Although this same additive is found in a variety of other foods such as baked goods, dark sauces (barbecue and soy, for example) pancake syrup, and soups, the amount of 4-Mel contained in these foods is unknown.   Nevertheless, it is believed that carbonated drinks with caramel color contribute at least about 25% of the 4-Mel in the diets of people over the age of 2, more than any other source.

The inescapable conclusion is that, in order to minimize the risk for cancer, avoid all those brown-colored sodas. For other reasons that I have previously noted on 6/25/13 and 3/30/15, it’s best to avoid all sodas—both sugary and artificially sweetened—completely!

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COMBATING FATIGUE AND BOOSTING ENERGY: SOME TIPS

Feeling tired, or lack of energy, is one of the commonest complaints encountered by physicians. From surveys involving patients visiting family doctors, 28% reported fatigue.[i] Although this symptom may sometimes signify a serious physical disease, it is far more often the result of psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, overwork, lack of adequate sleep, or simply boredom, and such stresses may be caused by an unhappy marriage, work frustrations, or a myriad of others. They can also be magnified by the effect of deconditioning in an individual who always avoids any physical activities. One helpful clue that psychological factors are the key drivers is the fact that fatigue is present even with first arising in the morning—not dependent upon how strenuous or prolonged your physical demands are.

The following comments are aimed at those individuals who lack any physical ailments after a medical evaluation. These tips should help to get you started on the right path.

PACE YOURSELF. If you’re used to an active lifestyle, you probably like to keep going — but keep it within reason. You can pace yourself and still get things done. For example, instead of “flaming out” in two hours, spread it out among morning tasks, afternoon tasks, and evening activities — with rest and meals in between.  Also try breaking the momentum with an occasional walk or nap. There’s nothing more satisfying than a short power nap when you’re pooped out. However, if you have trouble sleeping at night, know that napping can make insomnia worse. If that’s the case for you, get moving instead. Get up and walk around the block, or just get up and move around. If you are not an insomniac, though, enjoy that 20- to 30-minute power nap.

GET REGULAR EXERCISE: Vigorous aerobic exercises, or at least vigorous walking, 30 minutes or more three days weekly, are great ways to combat fatigue. Good basic fitness allows all activities—light and heavy alike—to seem far less exhausting.

COFFEE: The caffeine content in coffee, when taken especially in the morning, may help to ramp up your energy level. Caffeine is a well-known stimulant. But forget about the so-called “energy drinks”, such as the widely promoted 5-Hour Energy, which derives its effects from caffeine, but is far more expensive than plain coffee, as detailed in my post of 6/25/13.

3. SKIP MOST SUPPLEMENTS. You may have heard about energy-boosting or “anti-aging” supplements. There is no evidence they work.

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced by your body’s adrenal glands. These are glands just above your kidneys. Scientists don’t know everything DHEA does, but they do know that it forms a basis for conversion by the body into the hormones testosterone and estrogen. Among several claims, DHEA is believed to provide more energy as well as slowing the aging process. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that DHEA offers these benefits, and the side effects remain a question mark. You especially shouldn’t be buying it from ads in the back of a magazine, because you don’t know what’s in it.

IRON. Iron only improves energy if you are clearly deficient, which a doctor can check with a blood test. Unless you are low in iron, you don’t need to take it — and getting too much iron can be harmful.

B VITAMINS. It is true that B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12) help the body convert food into the form of energy that cells can burn, but taking more B vitamins doesn’t supercharge your cells. That’s a myth.

FUEL UP WISELY: A sugary roll from the bakery delivers plenty of calories, but your body tends to metabolize them faster, and this can be useful prior to short bursts of high-level exercise. In most cases, however, you’ll maintain a steadier energy level by eating lean protein and unrefined carbohydrates. Try low-fat yogurt with a sprinkling of nuts, raisins, and honey. Your body will take in the carb-fiber-protein mix more gradually. Don’t skip meals, either. Your body needs a certain number of calories to get through the day’s work. It’s better to space your meals out so your body gets the nourishment it needs all through the day.

LOOK FOR UNDERLYING CAUSES OF FATIGUE: As noted, emotional stresses or simple boredom may be the major culprits. If they are present, try to apply appropriate lifestyle adjustments and then evaluate these changes on the fatigue. You may be surprised!

 

[1] Kroenke K, Wood DR, Mangelsdorff AD, et al. Chronic fatigue in primary care: Prevalence, patient characteristics, and outcome. JAMA. 1988;260:929–934