Do I need to spend the big bucks on organic food?

The eternal struggle! Surely organic food MUST be healthier than non-organic food, right? RIGHT?!

Well look, there’s actually a little more nuance required to answer this question properly. Nuance I can’t quite fit in a podcast episode description.

But I CAN fit it into a podcast episode! So listen up


Welcome back to the Bite Me Nutrition podcast, today we’re going to be talking about
organic vs non-organic foods.
It's a very common question that
I get, and for good reason. I get it.
I definitely feel like organic has this sense
of health because organic means real and natural.
And we know that all things that are natural can't
possibly hurt us, except for cyanide and bears and lava.
Lots of other things.
But we'll give you slightly more science
based answers to the question of whether
organic is better than non organic. It.
So basically, just as a bit of background, an
organic food needs to be certified to be organic.
And so it needs to fit a number of criteria to do that.
Probably the main thing that it needs to do
is there's a certain list of pesticides and herbicides
and so products that are used to control weeds
and pests to help keep the crop itself safe.
There's a list of those pesticides and
herbicides that are banned, that are not
allowed to be used in organic farming.
And you are only allowed to use a
list of quote unquote organic pesticides and herbicides,
which I think is important to note. Right?
I think a lot of people think that organic means
no pesticides or herbicides, which is simply not true.
They just use some different herbicides and pesticides which
are quote unquote organic, but can still be quite
dangerous and risky if not used properly.
Kind of like all pesticides and herbicides.
So the reason organic is more expensive
is largely due to that certification.
So they need to get certified.
I'm sure that license costs them money.
There's also a bit of
a conversation around crop yields.
So typically organic farming results
in lower crop yields, I. E.
They will lose more of the crop to pesticides,
to pests and weeds and things like that.
And so it costs them more to
produce the same amount of product.
So the fact that organic products are more expensive
I don't think is entirely just because people making
organic foods are money hungry, evil people.
I don't think that at all.
I think it is largely just.
It is a function of what is
required to produce organic produce anyway.
You probably don't care about that.
You just want to know which one you should be buying.
Now, importantly, the nutrient composition of organic
versus inorganic foods is the same.
Okay, so an organic capsicum does not have more vitamin c
than an inorganic lol, than a non organic capsicum.
Come on Johnny, keep it together.
So across the board, there are slight variations
in antioxidants and certain vitamins and minerals.
But when you average it out across the board,
you absolutely do not get more nutrients, more nutrition
out of organic produce versus non organic produce. Okay?
So on that score, non organic wins because
you get more bang for your buck.
Literally, like we've said, non organic produce, usually cheaper.
And if you're getting the same nutrients
from that, that's a win right?
Now, of course, the other big conversation is
around this whole pesticide, herbicide thing because that's
the main reason why someone is going to
be buying non organic vegetables.
Is this something that you need to worry about?
Is this risk of pesticide exposure worth the organic
produce premium that you will need to pay?
As I said, organics produce still uses pesticides.
So there is still technically that risk of exposure.
But just like with organic or inorganic
pesticides and herbicides, it really does come
down to the dose, right? You've heard me say it.
You've heard plenty of people say it.
The dose makes the poison.
And in this scenario, like lots of other scenarios,
that is still very much the case, right?
We have very strict legislation
and measurement and check ins.
What am I trying to say? I don't know.
You probably do.
As to what is considered a
safe exposure to these pesticides, right?
And with these calculations that they have used to
create what counts as the upper limit of safe
pesticide exposure, those calculations actually have a huge amount
of buffer built into that equation.
So they figure out what they think is
probably safe and then usually they reduce that
amount by a factor of like 100 times.
So you could theoretically exceed the safe legislated
limit of pesticide exposure by 100 times and
still probably not have any physical health issues.
I'm not suggesting that anyone goes and does that.
It's also pretty unlikely that you're going to be able
to do that just by eating regular amounts of foods.
I think the calculation I read about, say, bread
is you'd have to eat 270 loaves of.
I'm misquoting because I haven't done
my research for this episode.
Sorry, but it's just an obscene amount of
produce that you just wouldn't accidentally eat.
So the reality is even eating regular amounts of
non organic fruits, vegetables and grains and things like
that, you're still going to be exposed to a
level of pesticides and herbicides that is significantly below
the safe upper limit right now.
Look, there are some health conditions, particularly
ones that are related to things like
oxidative stress and maybe some kind of
hormone interactions, those sorts of.
So I'm thinking of conditions like
endometriosis and pcos in particular.
There is potential for people with those conditions
to see some benefit by going organic because
hey've reduced their pesticide exposure even further.
And so these hormone interactions and potentially
that reduction in oxidative stress might help
them have a slight improvement.
It's unlikely to have a huge impact.
But if you've tried everything and you're looking
for that half a percent, that 1%, I
don't think going to organic produce, if that
is feasible within your budget is insane. I'm so sorry.
A bird has just landed on my roof.
If you can hear that running
around, hopefully you can't anyway.
So for those conditions, endometriosis, pcos, if you've
tried everything and you're still struggling, you're looking
for anything that you possibly can do and
you've got the cash, then going organic is
probably not the worst idea.
But washing your fruits and veggies regularly
is, I think, still probably going to
have a much bigger impact anyway.
Now the other thing that you'll see if you
look through a lot of the studies is that
people who eat organic produce are typically healthier, right?
We can't really deny that.
Unfortunately, there are a lot
of confounding variables at play.
And so what that means is people who
eat organic are also typically eating more plants.
They're eating a better quality diet overall.
They're more active, they smoke and drink
less, they maintain a healthier body composition.
So studies can control for these variables, right.
They can do some clever statistical analyses that
I don't understand to kind of see.
Hey, if we take out, say, smoking,
do we see differences between the groups?
If we take out physical activity?
And they can do that.
But studies, all of the studies
do this to a varying degree.
And so when you try and pool the data,
it's just tricky to be able to confidently say
that, yes, those health improvements are due to people
eating organic and aren't due to them just living
a quote unquote healthier lifestyle in general.
So some other studies you'll see will talk about
pesticide and herbicide levels in our urine and basically
checking on the amounts that we excrete.
And so you see when going organic or
people who follow an organic diet, they'll have
less of these pesticides and herbicide residues in
their urine, which I guess makes sense.
If you have less of them in your diet,
your body has less of them to excrete.
And I know that sounds good.
And look, it might be maybe as we move
forwards we'll get more and more information about it.
But right now we just really don't have
any data to show that that extra excretion
of pesticides or herbicides affects anything. Right.
It's currently a bit of a non event.
And so I guess my thoughts are, if it was
a huge issue, we would have already seen it.
It would have been significant enough for
us to pick up in these studies.
And so, yeah, if some longer range studies
can be done, focusing not just on whether
we excrete more pesticides, because that's not helpful.
Because we might excrete more pesticides, but that
might have zero impact on our health.
What we would need to do is establish
whether excreting the group that excretes more pesticides
and herbicides because they are eating regular non
organic produce, whether that group also has increased
rates of these other poor health outcomes.
So the data is just not there at the moment.
There's no links that we have seen.
And so I guess to sum up, ultimately,
I just think that eating enough fruits, vegetables
and grains should be your number one focus.
I think that eating enough of those is
going to be infinitely more beneficial for your
health than swapping to organic produce. Right.
And we do have studies showing.
I don't know if we've got studies, but I
can definitely thinking of one study in particular where
people mentioned that the cost of organic produce was
a barrier towards them getting it.
And because they felt like non organic produce wasn't as
good, they ended up just not eating it at all. Which is.
That's one of the very real risks of
this misunderstanding of organic versus non organic.
So I very much feel that
if you are worried, absolutely.
Wash your fruits and veggies and your grains and make
sure you're getting the recommended two and five or seven
serves of fruits and vegetables across the day.
Try and get a few serves
of grains in as is appropriate.
All of those things.
I think getting those things in, getting
the nutrients from those foods, which, as
we've said, aren't different, the nutrient levels
aren't different between organic and non organic.
I think that's going to be way more important
for long term health than lowering what is already
a very low exposure to pesticides and herbicides.
So hopefully that helped.
If you've got questions, let me know.
As always, the links and stuff
will be in the show notes.
I feel so official when I say that it's great
the show notes are on the website or probably in
whatever play you're listening on, but if they're not, the
link will be there and you can go to the
website and have a look at them there.
Otherwise, thanks for listening if
you found this helpful.
Always love to see people throwing it up in
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Chat to you next time. Bye.