From acute disease from pesticide exposure and the impact on the environment to points in time during our life cycle, we explore organic choice
As a dietitian, I am frequently asked about the importance of eating organic foods. What are the consequences of pesticides? Will eating non-organic produce have an impact on my long-term health? The answers to these questions are actually quite complex, and “importance” may be based on individual values and circumstances. It can be helpful to break this down from an environmental health perspective.
For any type of plant food, choosing organic products is a way to decrease personal and environmental exposure to pesticides. Exposure refers to the amount of contact we have with something – in this case, chemical pesticides. In the context of health, exposure “x” may cause disease “y”. A high dose of a given exposure may cause an acute health reaction, and a low dose of an exposure, which occurs frequently or “chronically” throughout one’s life, may cause disease following a latency period of a number of years. In either exposure scenario, a threshold must be reached in order to cause disease.
Acute disease from pesticides, which are typically neurological, are observed in populations with high exposure to pesticides, such as the workers who administer the chemicals or their families. Disease from chronic low-dose exposure to pesticides is difficult to pinpoint. Unfortunately, most of us are exposed to so many toxins over the course of our lives, that determining the exact cause of a disease such as cancer is nearly impossible. From a personal health perspective, the best course of action is to reduce exposure to toxins as reasonably able. For example, I buy mostly organic products for home cooking with the understanding that most of the eating I do outside my home will be non-organic. I’m reducing exposure without eliminating it entirely. It’s also important to mention there are certain periods in the life-cycle when reducing exposure to pesticides is particularly important. Babies and young children have less developed detoxification systems compared to adults, so eating organic products may be prioritized in pregnancy and in the early part of life.
Sustainable and organic farming practices also make a positive impact on the health of others as well as the environment. For example, pesticides can make their way into the soil and our water supply, which broadens their exposure, and as mentioned earlier, the chemicals can be hazardous to the health of those who are in direct contact with them. By choosing products from companies that value good farming practices, we show support for bettering health on a large scale.
One of the reasons I’ve become enamored with The Ginger People is because of the rigorous farming standards they employ and the personal relationships they develop with the people who grow and produce their products. In Fiji, Peru, Indonesia and China, The Ginger People’s farms utilize sustainable agricultural practices, and the company has also worked to set up community supporting programs. To read more about The Ginger People’s farms, click here.
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Alexandra Rothwell Kelly is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters in Public Health, currently residing in San Francisco. She received her undergraduate degree from New York University and completed her graduate studies at Mount Sinai. Alexandra has several years of experience in oncology nutrition at the Tisch Cancer Institute in New York and has performed clinical research in integrative medicine and health technology. She conducts individualized nutrition and lifestyle counseling with a focus on general wellness, chronic disease prevention, and cancer survivorship.