EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we’re taking a break from the usual format to publish the blog’s first ever guest contribution. This article is an excerpt from a blog previously written by The Organic Center Director of Science, Jessica Shade. You can read the full blog here. If you’re interested in submitting a guest blog, send your article and pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables…and make sure they’re organic
This New Year’s resolution is multifaceted, dealing with the health benefits of eating more produce while avoiding exposure to pesticides. This year it’s especially important to reach for the organic produce, because in 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised the permitted tolerance levels of glyphosate residue in many fruits and vegetables. This is especially worrisome, because 2013 also saw several studies documenting worrisome health associations with glyphosate exposure, such as estrogenic activity which could induce breast cancer cell growth, gut bacteria changes, and many other modern diseases.
2. Balance your Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids
Balancing your Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids is important, because Omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies can have negative health consequences, including inflammation, higher risk of heart disease, weight gain, depression and diabetes. One of the most interesting studies of 2013 showed that drinking organic milk plays an important role in balancing unhealthy Omega fatty acid ratios. The study took a look at how adult women could alter their diet to increase their consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. They found that by consuming high levels of organic milk, with reduced intake of omega-6 fatty acids in their diet, women could decrease their omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid profile by around 80 percent!
3. Save the soil
The soil is a part of our Earth that does not get a lot of attention, yet is a critical component of the health of our agriculture and natural ecosystems. Eating organic can help improve soil quality by building organic matter and supporting the soil microbiome. This has been supported by several studies to come out in 2013. For example, a study published in Crop Management showed that long-term organic management resulted in 40 percent more biologically-active soil organic matter as well as lower acidity and higher amounts of carbon, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous and calcium when compared to conventionally managed soil.
4. Focus on future generations
When you choose your food in 2014, it will be important to think not only about how the chemicals you are exposed to affect you but also about the effects your exposure might have on future generations. New research in 2013 showed it is possible for descendants to be affected by the chemicals their ancestors were exposed to, even if the future generations were never directly exposed to the pollutants themselves. This concept of disease inheritance is one of the most interesting (and frightening) new phenomena to be discovered in the past few years. An example of this was described in a study published in 2013 that showed DDT exposure could increase rates of obesity several generations down the line. Keep in mind that most of the studies examining this concept have focused on animal tests, so the conclusions don’t necessarily translate to humans. However, it’s probably a good idea to avoid toxic pesticides so we don’t inadvertently pass on environmental diseases to our children and grandchildren!
5. Listen to the frogs
Studies published in 2013 suggest that the use of synthetic pesticides may be contributing to the decline in amphibian populations. Amphibian populations have seen a dramatic decline in the last decade, and many scientists are worried that several species of frogs could go extinct in the next few years if we don’t change our agricultural practices. Even frogs living in remote areas are exposed to toxic pesticides, according to a 2013 study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. These effects were modeled by a 2013 article, published in Scientific Reports. Concluding that pesticides may have a large-scale negative effect on amphibian health, the authors stated, “Terrestrial pesticide exposure might be underestimated as a driver of their decline.” The researchers called for more attention to this issue in conservation efforts and pointed out that risk assessment procedures in place do not protect this vanishing animal group.
6. Avoid antibiotic resistant bacteria
In 2013 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) resealed a report detailing the threats of antibiotic resistant diseases on the public. One of the factors contributing to antibiotic resistance is the broad application of low doses of antibiotics in rearing animals. About 80 percent of all antibiotics sold are used in livestock facilities, and antibiotic resistance has been linked to this use of antibiotics in conventional animal rearing. Many people are infected with antibiotic strains of bacteria each year, which can be especially dangerous to children. Studies have also found that, because organic management does not use antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are less prevalent in organically produced milk, eggs, and meat than conventionally produced products.
The FDA has responded to these concerns by announcing their commitment to phasing out the agricultural use of antibiotics, but currently one of the only ways to ensure your animal products are antibiotic free is by choosing organic!
7. Bee friendly
Unfortunately, 2013 saw a continued trend of bee population decline. Many gardeners, farmers, and community members have been concerned by this, because, without bees, many important crops would disappear, such as apples, almonds, blueberries, cherries, avocados and oranges.
One of the most recent studies examining honey bee population declines showed that a combination of insecticides and fungicides can have a negative impact on bees’ immune systems, resulting in decreased ability to resist infection by the parasite Nosema ceranae implicated in colony collapse disorder.
One of the best ways to support the bees is to eat organic, so make sure you choose organic fruit and vegetables when you are browsing the grocery store isles!
8. Shrink the dead zone
Dead zones are low-oxygen zones in the ocean which are caused primarily by nutrient pollution from synthetic fertilizers. Oxygen levels in these areas are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive, creating an area devoid of life. They affect large areas of the ocean, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, and have been growing in size since 1985.
In 2013 researchers found that excess nitrogen is impacting the Mississippi River and worsening the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone. These scientists found record levels of nitrogen in the watershed, driven by a combination of drought from 2012 and high rainfalls from the spring of 2013. Nitrogen is making its way into the waterways from synthetic fertilizer spread on conventional farms, polluting local aquatic areas and eventually contributing to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Measures of the 2013 Dead Zone found that it had doubled in size from 2012, likely due to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution runoff from agricultural sources.
One way to reduce the amount of nitrogen polluting our waterways is by choosing organic. The Organic Center is currently conducting a project quantifying the amount that organic production decreases nitrogen pollution. Preliminary reports show that organic vegetables and grains contribute over 50% less nitrogen pollution than produce grown conventionally!
9. Stabilize the climate
Climate change continues to be a major concern in 2014, and researchers have been focusing on ways to mitigate the issue. Some work done in 2013 suggested that organic production may be a key part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a study out of Germany showed that organic farming not only produces less greenhouse gases but also uses less energy than conventional farming techniques. Agriculture is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, so choosing organic could mitigate the future threat of climate change!
10. Eat more organic tomatoes
Organic tomatoes were made famous in 2013 by the studies that came out describing their nutritional benefits. One of the studies, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, showed that organic tomatoes were 50 percent higher in vitamin C content than conventional tomatoes, and had 139 percent higher total phenolic content. Another study, published in Plant Foods and Human Nutrition, confirmed that organic tomatoes have higher vitamin C and phenolic content levels and added that organic tomatoes also have more carotenoids than conventional tomatoes.