Daily Archives: April 12, 2010

Organic: What it actually means on different products

You see the word ‘organic’ more and more. But what does it actually say about what it’s on? Some consumers are more than willing to pay higher prices for organically grown food and other products. But is the extra dollar worth it? The answer may depend upon personal priorities. Here are tips for fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat, cosmetics, processed foods and cotton and coffee from a great report in the LA Times:

By definition, organically grown foods are produced without most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge. Livestock aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones. And organic farmers emphasize renewable resources and conservation of soil and water.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the National Organic Program, says organic is a “production philosophy,” adding that an organic label does not imply a product is superior. Moreover, some nutrition experts say, there’s no need to eat organic to be healthy: Simply choose less processed food and more fruits and vegetables.

To compare the nutrient density of organically and conventionally grown grapes, researchers would have to have matched pairs of fields, including using the same soil, the same irrigation system, the same level of nitrogen fertilizer and the same stage of ripeness at harvest, acknowledged Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center, a pro-organics research institution.

Last summer, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a comprehensive review concluding that organic and conventional food had comparable nutrient levels.

The study outraged some members of the organic community, who criticized the study for not addressing pesticide residues, a major reason people choose organic. Nor did the study address the effect of farming practices on the environment and personal health.

Maria Rodale, a third-generation advocate for organic farming, urges consumers to look beyond nutrition to the chemicals going into our soil, our food and our bodies. “What we do to our environment, we are also doing to ourselves,” said Rodale, chairwoman and chief executive of Rodale Inc., which publishes health and wellness content.

So, here’s a closer look at some of the factors that may influence your decision whether to buy organic products.

Fruits and vegetables

Farmers using conventional practices treat crops with pesticides that protect them from mold, insects and disease but can leave residues. Organic fruits and vegetables have less pesticide residue and lower nitrate levels than do conventional fruits and vegetables, according to a 1996 scientific summary report by the Institute of Food Technologists.

The bottom line: Pesticide residue poses little risk to most consumers, health experts say. But unborn babies and children are more vulnerable to the effects of synthetic chemicals, which can be toxic to the brain and nervous system, said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

The Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy organization, recommends buying organically grown peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes and pears because conventionally grown versions are the most heavily sprayed. Onions, avocados, sweet corn and pineapples have some of the lowest levels of pesticides.

As for nutrition, one French study found that, in some cases, organic plant products have more minerals such as iron and magnesium and more antioxidant polyphenols. But although mounting evidence suggests that soil rich in organic matter produces more nutritious food, “we are never going to be able to say organic is always more nutrient dense; that’s going beyond the science,” said Benbrook of the Organic Center.

Dairy and meat

Organic dairy and meat products come from animals not treated with antibiotics or genetically engineered bovine growth hormones, which are used to stop the spread of disease and to boost milk production. Past rules on “access to pasture” were vague and didn’t require that the animals actually venture into it. But a new regulation requires that animals graze for a minimum of 120 days. In addition, 30% of their dietary needs must come from pasture.

The bottom line: The dairy cow’s diet is key. Organic milk has more vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid because the cows eat high levels of fresh grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found organic milk can improve the quality of breast milk and may protect young children against asthma and eczema.

Though the FDA says milk from cows treated with bovine growth hormone is safe and indistinguishable from other milk, consumers are spooked. Dean Foods, the nation’s largest dairy producer, no longer sells milk from those cows, and Kroger (which owns Ralphs), Wal-Mart, Costco, Starbucks, Dannon, Yoplait and several other companies have pledged not to use it.

As with dairy, organic meat has higher levels of omega-3s because of the higher forage content in the animals’ diet. It also has lower fat overall than that from animals fed a high-corn diet, said Benbrook. Eating organic dairy or meat also can help with another issue: The use of antibiotics on farms has contributed to an increase in antibiotic-resistant genes in bacteria, say health and agriculture experts.

“Pushing animals to grow really fast has a cascade of effects on the environment and the health of the animal,” said Benbrook. “We need to back off the accelerator and focus on the health of the plant, the health of the animal, as well as the nutrient composition of the food.”

Cosmetics, personal care

Chemicals in personal care products have been linked to both environmental pollution and human health concerns. Of particular concern are phthalates, which have been linked to endocrine disruption. Environmental concerns also are rising about the tiny nanoparticles now being added to cosmetics, sunscreens and other products. Notably, organic personal care products can be labeled “organic” but still contain synthetic ingredients.

The bottom line: Of the 3,000 chemicals used in high volume in personal care products, only half have been put through basic toxicity testing, according to Landrigan.

You may be paying more for “organic” products that aren’t actually organic; the USDA regulates organic personal care products only if they’re made of agricultural ingredients. Look for the USDA logo rather than the word “organic” on the label.

Processed foods

Many processed foods — pasta, candy, cookies, crackers, baby food — now come in organic versions. Products made from at least 95% organic ingredients can carry the “USDA Organic” seal if the remaining ingredients are approved for use in organic products. Products with at least 70% organic ingredients may label those on the ingredient list.

The bottom line: Processed organic food hasn’t been shown to be any more nutritious than processed conventional food.

In conventionally processed products such as baby food, pesticides aren’t commonly detected because the processing steps “are quite effective in breaking down trace residues of pesticides,” said food toxicologist Carl Winter, director of the Food Safe Program at UC Davis and co-author of the Institute of Food Technologists scientific summary.

“Pesticides are rarely used on crops grown for baby foods since the ultimate appearance of the crop is less important due to the processing before the product is ultimately sold,” Winter said.

Some consumers may decide to choose organic because those products are not supposed to contain genetically modified organisms.

Cotton, coffee

Cotton and coffee are two of the most pesticide-intensive crops in the world. Pesticide residue has been detected in the cottonseed hull, a secondary crop sold as a food commodity, and conventional coffee production has contributed to the deforestation of the world’s rain forests.

The bottom line: Pesticide residue is generally removed during the processing, but the chemicals can have a huge effect on the land, biodiversity and the health of the workers involved. Though buying organic can help preserve environmental health and support farmers who use ecological methods, “it’s more important to focus on the circumstances of growers and farms versus the product itself,” said food writer Corby Kummer, the author of “The Joy of Coffee.”

Dealing With Those All-Too-Public Tantrums

Parents often have a hard time figuring out what to do when their children decide to throw tantrums. It doesn’t help matters that kids often have their meltdowns in public places — the supermarket, the mall, the family restaurant. According to a report in HealthDay News, an expert is saying, “Don’t let glares, stares tempt you to give into your child’s meltdowns.” So, just what should you do?

Chuck Smith, a Kansas State University child development expert, has compiled tips to help parents deal with out-of-control youngsters. Here’s his advice:

  • Set rules and enforce them. “Many parents are concerned with the glare of onlookers, so they’ll let their kids get away with things because of the threat,” Smith said in a news release. “You can’t let a child leverage your own sense of embarrassment in public to get what he or she wants. It’s not that you ignore the public, but you have to decide where your real priority is — and that is with teaching your child. You can’t ever lose focus on that.”
  • Make sure your rules are age-appropriate. A 5-year-old may have a hard time keeping quiet in church, so expecting her to do so may be unreasonable. But that same child should be able to keep her food in her mouth when you go out to eat.
  • Make sure you only discipline kids for breaking rules that they know about. Gently remind them by asking whether they remember what they’re supposed to do. “Then, when they look at you in a confused manner, you firmly remind them of the rule,” Smith said. “You don’t ever punish a child for something they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to do.”
  • It’s OK to ignore some types of behavior, such as pleading for a toy at the department store. “Any response to whining or crying, even punishment, shows that a child is in control and is pulling a parent’s strings,” Smith said. “The parent should rise above this noise and remain steadfast to the limit they set. You have to be smarter than the kid and realize that you are not going to be drawn into this. If you give in, you’re going to have lots of temper tantrums before they realize it doesn’t work.”

Want more tips on raising a happy, well-behaved, and healthy youngster? You can learn more in my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen:

  • You can order an autographed copy of the book here.
  • See the Table of Contents here.
  • Read the Forward by Dr. Gary Chapman here.
  • Read the first chapter here.

Also, I’m expecting the revision on my now sold-out book, God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Child, to be out later this year. I’ll let you know when it comes out. Until it does, you can:

  • See the Table of Contents here.
  • Read the Forward by Dr. John Trent here.
  • Read the first chapter here.

Doctors Say Schools May Be Spreading Misinformation About Homosexuality

The American College of Pediatricians (ACP) is sending a letter to school superintendents asking that they not tell students who may experience same-sex attractions to simply accept that they are homosexual. And, the group has launched a new web site with material for educators and students on the topic.

According to a report on CitizenLink, the letter cites studies that “demonstrate most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attraction, or are sexually confused, no longer experience such attractions by age 25.”

The report says, “One such study shows as many as 26 percent of 12-year-olds reported being uncertain of their sexual orientation, yet only 2-3 percent of adults actually identify as homosexual. Therefore, the majority of sexually questioning youth ultimately adopt a heterosexual identity.  Many schools, however, tell such questioning students that they should embrace homosexuality and identify themselves as gay.”

Tom Benton, president of the ACP, said even children with Gender Identity Disorder, will “typically lose this desire … if the behavior is not reinforced.”

“It is clear that when well-intentioned but misinformed school personnel encourage students to ‘come out as gay’ and be ‘affirmed,'” he explained, “there is a serious risk of erroneously labeling students who may merely be experiencing transient sexual confusion and/or engaging in sexual experimentation. Premature labeling may then lead some adolescents into harmful homosexual behaviors that they otherwise would not pursue.”

Joseph, founder of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, said that many studies show early intervention has an impact.

“Once you discover it, there are things you can do to diminish those attractions and to develop your heterosexual potential,” he said.

You can learn more about helping your teen prepare for puberty and sexual choices in my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen:

  • You can order an autographed copy of the book here.
  • See the Table of Contents here.
  • Read the Forward by Dr. Gary Chapman here.
  • Read the first chapter here.