Recently The New York Times, NPR and numerous media outlets published articles highlighting the results of Stanford University’s study of organic food with tabloid-style headlines like “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce” and “Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You” none of which made me, or any of us in the wellness community very happy.
After spending years working to educate patients on the importance of fueling their bodies for optimal health, I was frankly ticked off by the dismissive headlines which, in just a matter of days, wreaked havoc in the minds of millions health-conscious consumers and making those on the fence think, why bother? Even a few of my patients said, “Hey Doc, what’s up with this?” – so it seemed that a rational response was in order. Here’s my take on this media-made mess – and why I continue to have no doubt that eating organic is still the smartest choice for anyone who cares about his or her health:
1.) Stanford’s study was a massive number crunch.
If you’ve ever had any dealings with statistics, then you know how easily they can be crunched, manipulated, spun and interpreted to back-up just about any point you care to make. They don’t call it a “numbers game” for nothing. Take that idea and multiply it by the studies whose numbers were crunched. At the core of a “meta-analysis” like this one is its fundamental limitation – they are just re-crunching old data, some of questionable value – not new on-the-ground, in-the-lab research. And the interpretation and understanding the results is very much in the eye of the beholder. Simply put, numbers can lie – or in this case mislead millions of intelligent people by the time it trickles down to them in article form.
2.) Stanford’s study missed the point of buying organic.
The Stanford study arrived at its numbers, but it couldn’t or didn’t factor in the fundamental reason most people buy organics in the first place: they’re poison-free! The number one reason my colleagues and I encourage everyone to eat organics is because they’re grown without poisonous chemical pesticides, which means fewer toxins entering our bodies and endangering our health. We’re also pro-organics because they’re kinder to the earth, the people who farm it and those who harvest it – making buying organic a moral decision as well as a healthy one. Large-scale corporate farming, with its crop-dusting, gene-splicing, industrial runoff, etc. is about maximum yield and weather and bug-resistance. The big corporations don’t care about the impact of their methods on your body. It’s simply not about you – but when it comes to eating, shouldn’t it be? If you ask me, low toxic loads, more antioxidants, taste and freshness should not be an afterthought – and with organics, they’re not. So take that, number-crunchers.
3.) Stanford’s study weakly admits organics have more antioxidants and fewer pesticides.
As the risk of damning the Stanford study altogether, to its credit, the study does acknowledge that organics have lower levels of pesticides and more antioxidants than conventionally grown food. OK, so now we’re getting somewhere, but those findings are hardly news to us in the wellness community and common sense doesn’t make for attention-grabbing headlines. When all is said and done, the organic vs. conventional argument all comes down to how many chemicals and poisons – whose long-term effects can be catastrophic – are we willing to ingest? I think we all know the answer to that one, studies be damned.
4.) So what are you going to do about it?
Ultimately, it’s about doing all you can to keep poisons out of your body and fueling it with the best food you can afford. Food that’s organic, fresh, locally grown, bought at the farmer’s market – all of it can go a long way to creating and sustaining optimal health. Even agro-business isn’t corrupt enough to try to make that kind of claim – they know their stuff is crap, and that we are on to them. However, the one lament I do hear about organics is that they’re more expensive than conventional and going all organic can be a financial challenge. I can’t argue with that, but to keep costs in check, you can buy produce strategically to save money. To help you determine how to spend your money wisely, download a copy of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list and “Clean 15” lists. The lists identify which conventional produce items aren’t loaded with pesticides – and which ones you’re better off buying organic. To download a copy of the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen lists, click to www.foodnews.org. For more ideas on how to buy organic without breaking the bank, check out www.drfranklipman.com/wallet-friendly-organic-eating.
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Frank Lipman MD is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of Integrative and Functional Medicine. A practicing physician, he is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC and the developer of Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman, a line of leading-edge supplements and kits to make healthy living easy for busy people. To hang with Frank, visit his blog, follow him on Twitter or join his Facebook community today.