Organic options questioned

By TaylorGleason

Walk into any local organic grocery store and you’ll see an array of colorful fruits and vegetables displayed in natural, earthy-looking brown crates and boxes. Organic and all-natural foods are gaining popularity in the U.S., but while these foods seem healthier, there is no scientific proof that they are.

Organic food is grown using all-natural pesticides and fertilizers with an emphasis on sustainable farming practices.  All-natural food, on the other hand, is food without any synthetic preservatives or additives.

Jennifer Bruning, a professor of nutrition at Columbia, explained that many people eat these foods not only because they want to protect the environment, but also because they want to avoid eating artificial ingredients and chemicals.

“You can’t necessarily equate all-natural [food] with weight maintenance and overall health,” Bruning said.

She explained a healthy weight comes from burning off calories, no matter what food they came from.

Bruning said that many parents prefer to give their children organic food because “there seems to be traceable amounts of pesticide and fertilizer residues” in conventional crops, and those residues can harm children’s developing neurological systems, particularly if a woman eats non-organic products while she is pregnant.

However, Bruning explained that to date, there have been no complete scientific studies on the specific effects of these synthetic pesticides once they enter the human body.

Bruning also pointed out that organic fruits and vegetables do not necessarily have higher amounts of nutrients than their non-organic counterparts. She said that regardless of whether our food is organic or all-natural, eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods is just the beginning of good health.

Organic and all-natural eating is a good choice for people with food allergies, Bruning said, because they do not contain genetically modified organisms, which may be harmful to those with allergies.

Fish genes sometimes appear in tomatoes because they can help protect a tomato during cold conditions. However, the fish genes in a genetically modified tomato could be a problem for people who are allergic to fish, and eating organically ensures that consumers will know exactly what is in their food.

Even though specific scientific evidence on the effects of pesticides in foods doesn’t yet exist, many people consider eating organic or natural foods a priority for their health.

C.C. Sappington, a Columbia student, said she tries to eat organically because she avoids consuming artificial ingredients.

Many organic and all-natural restaurants are picking up on their customers’ changing attitudes. Epic Burger, 517 S. State St., hails itself as an “all-natural” burger restaurant. Tim Blucher, an Epic Burger store manager, explained that the meat at the restaurant contains “no preservatives, no antibiotics, no hormones and [the animals the meat comes from] are fed a strict vegetarian diet.”

Blucher said all-natural food fights fatigue. From synthetic meat, people don’t “get all the [health] benefits because they are eating something that’s not pure chicken or pure beef. [Conventional meats don’t contain] all the protein that the body needs.”

According to Blucher, eating all-natural meats also helps improve brain function by providing additional nutrients to the body.

Bruning pointed out that fiber is the biggest factor for a healthy diet. Fiber is found in minimally or unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grain products.

Processed food has empty calories that can contribute to weight gain, even if food is organic because the essential nutrients are diminished as foods are altered.

Bruning said that the first step in creating and maintaining a healthy diet involves nutritional balance and avoiding processed foods, whether or not they are organic or all-natural.