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Study examines benefits of organic foods

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A Stanford University study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last week showed that eating organic produce and meat reduces a consumer’s level of pesticide ingestion and exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While these statements might seem obvious to anyone paying half-attention, they are an important reinforcement of long-held beliefs by those of us who choose to better our bodies by living organically.

Unfortunately, the headline you may have heard about the study sounded more like this: Organic Food is Not Healthier Than Conventional Produce; Study Sees No Nutritional Edge in Organic Foods; Still No Evidence that Organic Food is Healthier; and on, and on, and on.

The researchers at Stanford drew three conclusions from the more than 230 field studies and 17 human studies they analyzed. The two I already mentioned are fantastic confirmations of what many people already suspected about organic meat and produce. The other – that organic foods may not be significantly more nutritious than conventional foods – is a dangerous misinterpretation of information and worse, a potential ploy to encourage consumers to buy conventionally grown produce for the sole purpose of marginalizing the organic food industry.

By acknowledging that if you avoid fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides you will have fewer such toxins in your body, the Stanford study does more than confirm the “significant” nutritious effect this action can have on humans. When food is cultivated with pesticides, the chemicals often spread beyond the crop, and into the surrounding soil, water, and air. The person eating foods treated with pesticides is hardly the only one experiencing the associated negative health effects.

For instance, though the United States banned the chemical DDT, an insecticide also used for agricultural purposes, in 1973, its use persisted in “minor” crops, as well as for public health reasons and export of the material, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thirty-three years after DDT was banned in this country, a 2006 study by the University of California at Berkeley found that in utero exposure to DDT was associated with developmental delays in young children.

What’s more, a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics linked exposure to other pesticides, known as organophosphates, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. And a trio of studies published in 2011 in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that when children were exposed to organophosphates in the womb, they had lower IQs by the time they entered school than kids who had virtually no exposure.

Aside from harming our children, pesticides affect wildlife, particularly the mysteriously disappearing bees whose pollinating powers are vital to crop sustainability. This past spring, teams of researchers in France and Britain suggested that low levels of common pesticides called neonicotinoids fog the brains of honeybees, and also prevent bumblebees from supplying their hives with enough food to produce a new queen. Heard of colony collapse disorder?

Rather than highlight the positive outcomes of the Stanford study, the media went for the jugular, seizing the opportunity to misinform the public with a flashy headline questioning the nutritious value of organic foods, all in the name of selling more papers or increasing website clicks.

By definition, the DNA of genetically modified organisms has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally, according to the World Health Organization. Food producers cite the advantages of genetic modification as increased crop protection, disease resistance, and herbicide tolerance. I don’t know about you, but the idea of putting anything unnaturally altered into my body because it makes life easier for conventional food producers is not terribly appealing.

I want my fruits and vegetables to come from the land, not from the lab. I want to derive from my organic fare the many benefits reported in reputable studies done elsewhere, like the one published last year in the academic journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. It revealed that organic fruits and vegetables contain on average 12 percent more health-promoting compounds than conventionally grown produce – compounds like secondary metabolites, which are believed to protect against obesity, cancer, and heart disease.

The myth that organic foods are no better than their conventional counterparts is beyond salacious: it is simply untrue. The Stanford study itself says so, if you choose to read it that way. The wide-ranging negative health effects of pesticide use are blatant, and when you buy organic fruits and vegetables you send a message to conventional food producers that their poisonous methods will not be tolerated. And the same goes for choosing organic meat: by selecting this antibiotic-free method of raising cows, chickens, and pigs, you not only repudiate the disgusting conditions in which less fortunate animals live, but you help prevent the spread of potentially deadly, antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

In this way and so many others, you can better the world for yourself, your family, and creatures big and small, purely by eating organic foods. It actually is that simple.

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health, www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org  and 'Like' her Facebook page here.