One big question I get asked frequently is: How important is it to eat organic? And it’s certainly a question I’ve given a lot more thought to lately, not only due to my recent Eco Nutrition course (which shed some extremely interesting light on the importance of organic farming practices), but of course since becoming pregnant, because obviously I want to give this little man (and his mama) the best health possible from the start (oh right, announcement time – it’s a boy!).
I know a lot of people do the hard eye roll when the topic of eating organic comes up. And I get why people feel that way since many associate the concept with rich, trendy celebrities or hemp wearing commune dwellers instead of something that’s relevant for everyone. Even I have to admit I wasn’t solidly on the organic only (or at least as much as possible) bandwagon before starting my nutrition studies. It was more like I was sitting on the back of the wagon with my legs dangling off, reserving the right to jump the minute some crazy hippie or juice toting valley girl took things one step too far. But I have to admit – I’ve been converted, and today here at TNB I’m going to explain why you should be too (and of course give you a delicious recipe for a Mexican Quinoa Salad made with – you guessed it – lots of fresh organic goodies!).
This is admittedly a massive topic, so to help break it all down into a digestible blog post, I’ve decided to focus on a few key takeaways and create my top 5 reasons for choosing organic:
- If you eat toxic, you feel toxic
Chemical laden processed foods aside (which as I’ve said many many times are the most important things to remove from our diets), modern agricultural practices have also made many of our amazing whole food options toxic due to genetic modification and pesticides and fertilizers used to help the agribusiness’s bottom line and create produce that looks good and travels far. And it doesn’t stop at simply spraying these chemicals ON the produce – it’s also IN them. In fact, 18% of all genetically-modified seeds (and therefore foods that grow from them) are engineered to produce their own pesticides, and research shows that these seeds may continue producing pesticides inside your body once you’ve eaten the food grown from them!
And animal products are no better. Most conventionally raised livestock are fed a combination of soy and corn, 90% of which is GMO. Furthermore, most of them are also treated with antibiotics to prevent rampant infection in crowded factory farms, which make their way into the meat and dairy products we consume, and thus eventually – you guessed it – your body.
Veggies that are actually pesticide factories or meat and dairy brimming with drugs? Um, pass.
- Organic food is more nutrient rich
A quick science lesson: a huge portion of a plant’s nutrients come from the soil it’s grown in. Thus when soil nutrients are depleted, say through modern farming practices like pesticide use, heavy machinery and mono-cropping, then so are the nutrients in the food grown in that soil. Get it? Since organic farming practices focus heavily on soil health through mechanisms like proper crop rotation, companion planting and compost fertilizing (instead of relying on chemical inputs), organically grown fruits and veg contain more nutrients than their non-organic counterparts. Sometimes a lot more. In fact, a study done by the Journal of American Nutrition revealed that organic food contains from 10-250% more vitamins and minerals than non-organic food. Huzzah!
- Organic farming protects the climate
As you most likely know, carbon emissions are one of the main contributors to climate change and global warming. Unlike modern farming which contributes to climate change through deforestation and soil erosion, organic farming actually combats it. For one, organic soil contains up to twice as many beneficial microbes, earthworms and insects as non-organic soil; all of which naturally store carbon. In fact, studies have shown that organic soil stores up to 33% more carbon than non-organic soil, which directly helps in the fight against global warming. Furthermore, since organic farmers shun the use of pesticides, which greatly damage the ozone layer, it further works to prevent climate change.
- Organic farming preserves agricultural diversity
Did you know that there were once over 6000 different kinds of tomatoes, while today there are only 15? I know, crazy. The rampant loss of species occurring today is a major environmental concern. In fact, it’s estimated that 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost in the last century. Why does this matter (translation: why should you care?)? Because leaning heavily on one or two varieties of a given food is a formula for disaster. For instance, remember that little historical catastrophe called the potato famine, where a blight knocked out the whole crop of potatoes, which consisted of just a few varieties, and millions of people died of starvation? Yeah, that’s why this is a problem.
Most conventional food is extremely hybridized to produce large, attractive specimens that travel well, rather than a variety of indigenous strains that are tolerant to regional conditions such as droughts and pests. Alternatively, most organic farms grow an assorted range of food, taking natural elements and time-tested tradition into account – including the critical element of diversity.
- The cost of eating organic is actually lower (not higher) than eating non-organic
Ok here is where I’m going to get a little existential on you. Yes it’s true that the price tags attached directly to organic foods at the store or market are higher than their non-organic counterparts, but where the real cost of not eating organic gets you is outside the grocery store – namely in healthcare, environmental and economical impacts. First, many people (Uh-hmmm…Americans) like to talk about Canada’s “free” health care, but we know it ain’t free. We pay for it through our hard earned tax dollars, and although it is a wonderful system, it’s not sustainable as long as the general population’s health continues on its steep decline. In fact, one-third of Canadians have at least one chronic health condition, and chronic diseases are estimated to cost the system over $90 billion annually in treatment and lost productivity. Simply eating more nutrient-dense, clean organic foods that combat and prevent chronic disease over chemical laden, nutrient deficient non-organic produce and packaged foods is the most effective and simplest long-term strategy for reversing this scary trend. Besides, isn’t your health worth a few extra bucks at the till? Mine sure is!
And the cost doesn’t stop at our health; it’s at the cost of our planet’s and our economy’s health as well. Modern methods of industrial crop production are ultimately unsustainable. Reliance upon a decreasing number of highly specialized and mechanized farms make us increasingly vulnerable to the impact of rising oil prices, rising food prices and extreme weather events, the effect of which puts us at great risk of food insecurity – meaning huge numbers of us will not have adequate access to healthy food.
Of course I don’t say any of this to scare you (even though it’s impossible to deny these are scary facts!). I just want to help educate you on why choosing organic matters and demonstrate how empowered you are to make a real impact simply by shopping differently – which is an amazing truth! If you’re still worried about your grocery bill (which I completely understand) a great place to start is by choosing organic when buying anything off the dirty dozen list (the list of produce most contaminated by pesticides) and saving your pennies by choosing non-organic options from the clean fifteen list (the list of produce with the least amount of pesticide contamination). You can read more about it and find the lists here.
And you can start enjoying your new organic lifestyle this week by making my awesome new recipe for Mexican Quinoa Salad. Featuring tons of flavour and lots of nutrient-dense, organic veg, this cold salad makes the perfect dinner side dish or fast lunch option. And hell, it will make you feel so darn good knowing you gave your health and our planet a big ol’ hug just by cooking quinoa. Captain Planet – eat your heart out.
The Natural Blonde
P.s. If you failed to get the Captain Planet reference, please do yourself a favour and YouTube it. Its 90s cartoon excellence at its best. And advanced apologies for the theme song that will inevitably be stuck in your head, maybe forever….
Mexican Quinoa Salad
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 can organic black soy beans or black beans (preferably non BPA lining or 1½ cups cooked from dry)
- 1 organic red pepper, chopped
- 1 organic green pepper, chopped
- 1 cup organic cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- Large handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1-2 tsp. raw honey or coconut nectar
- 2 tsp. hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)
- ¼ tsp. cumin
- ¼ tsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. sea salt
In a medium saucepan, combined the quinoa with two cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa is fully cooked. Allow to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled quinoa with the rest of the salad ingredients except the avocado. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients, then pour over the salad and stir to thoroughly coat. For the best flavour, allow the salad to rest in the fridge for a couple hours to allow all the flavours to combine.
When ready to serve, portion desired amount into bowls and top with the slices of fresh avocado. Enjoy!
Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
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