Organic Foods: Better, Safer, More Nutritious?

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Organic foods—are they better, safer, more nutritious? That's what many active people want to know. After all, when you are training hard to enhance your performance, you might as well enhance your health at the same time—and that means eating wisely and well.

Questions arise: should eating organic foods be a part of your sports diet? This article addresses some questions athletes commonly ask about whether or not to go organic.

The Meaning of Organic

To start, what does "organic" actually mean? Organic refers to the way farmers grow and process fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled "organic." (Note: The food label terms "natural," "hormone free" or "free-range" do not necessarily mean "organic.")

Organic farming practices are designed to conserve soil and water and to reduce pollution. For example, organic farmers do not use chemical fertilizers, insecticides or weed killers on crops. Nor do they use growth hormones, antibiotics and medications to enhance animal growth and prevent disease.

Why Go Organic?

Organic fruits and vegetables can cost about 30 percent more than standard produce, if not more. If you are a hungry athlete who requires a lot of food, you might be wondering: Are organic products worth the extra cost? In terms of taste, some athletes claim organic foods taste better. Taste is subjective and may relate to the fact that freshly grown foods have more flavor.

In terms of nutrition, some professionals agree the reason to buy organic food is not for a nutritional edge. Organic foods may have more minerals and antioxidants than conventionally grown counterparts, but the differences are debatable.

One important reason to buy organic--preferably locally grown organic--is to help sustain the earth and replenish its resources. Buying locally grown foods supports the small farmers and helps them earn a better living from their farmland. Otherwise, farmers can easily be tempted to sell their land for house lots or industrial parks--and there goes more beautiful, open green space.

Yet, if you buy organic foods from a large grocery store chain, you should think about the whole picture. Because organic fruits, for example, are in big demand, they may need to be transported for thousands of miles--let's say from California to Massachusetts. This transportation process consumes fuel, pollutes the air and hinders the establishment of a better environment.

Does this really fit the ideal vision of "organic?" The compromise is to buy locally grown produce whenever possible. To find the farm stands in your area, visit (

More: The Organic Question

Pesticide Risk?

A second potential reason to choose organic relates to reducing the pesticide content in your body and the potential risk of cancer and birth defects. The Environmental Protection Agency has established standards that require a 100 to 1,000-fold margin of safety for pesticide residues.

They have set limits based on scientific data that indicates a pesticide will not cause "unreasonable risk to human health." According to Richard Bonanno, PhD, agricultural expert at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a farmer himself, 65 percent to 75 percent of conventionally grown produce has no detectible pesticides. (When used properly and applied at the right times, pesticides degrade and become inert.)

More: Your Guide to Buying Organic