Where Eating Organic Matters Most

If steroids can make cows and steers get bigger, why wouldn't they have the same effect on the people who eat them?

November 10, 2016
grocery shopping meat

Adapted from Eat Clean Stay Lean: The Diet

Organic produce, by definition, is grown without synthetic, industrial fertilizers or pesticides. That's a big deal, since billions of pounds of agricultural chemicals are sprayed on our crops each year. And believe it or not, most of these chemicals haven't gone through extensive testing to ensure that they're safe. Seems a little bizarre, right?

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More: What Does Organic Really Mean?

When you choose organic, you know that the fruits and vegetables you're getting are truly clean. That's because organic produce: can only be grown on land that's been free of fertilizers and pesticides for at least 3 years; can't be irradiated to kill bacteria; can't be fertilized with sewage sludge (in other words, treated human waste); can't be grown from genetically modified seeds.

Since many of the chemicals used to produce conventional food haven't been thoroughly vetted, it's tough to know for sure just how harmful they really are. But why take a chance? Research has already linked synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to annoying effects, such as headaches and nausea, as well as more serious issues, including cancer and reproductive problems. And some findings suggest that they could even be messing with the number you see on the scale.

More: 50 Foods You Should Never Eat

But opting for organic isn't just about avoiding the bad stuff—it's also about getting more of the good stuff. For a while, experts believed that organic produce packed the same nutritional punch as conventional. But more recently, a review of 343 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organically grown fruits and vegetables contain an average of 17 percent more polyphenolic antioxidants than their conventional counterparts. Organic crops, experts think, probably get a boost from being grown in nutrient-rich soil that hasn't been sucked dry by years of exposure to chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Basically, choosing organic can help you fuel your body with more of the nutrients it needs—which is key to losing weight and feeling your best. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to go organic 100 percent of the time. Eating fruits and vegetables in abundance—even conventionally grown ones—delivers serious benefits for your health and your waistline. So go organic when you can, but when you can't, don't let that stop you from enjoying as much fresh produce as possible.

More: How to Decipher 'Healthy' Food Labels

And choosing organic meat, eggs, and dairy might be even more important than choosing organic fruits and vegetables. Of course, conventionally raised cows and chickens aren't getting sprayed with chemical-laden pesticides or fertilizers. But their food—which consists mostly of corn, soybeans, and grains—still is. So when you have a drumstick, a glass of milk, or a steak, you end up being subjected to the impact of that feed. Many conventional farmers also pump their cattle full of sex and growth hormones to increase meat and milk production, and some of these hormones are passed on to you. 

More: This Is What a Perfect Day of Clean Eating Looks Like

That's scary stuff, since the growth hormones rBHG and rBST are linked to an increased risk for breast cancer and prostate cancer. Evidence also suggests that all that added junk could affect your weight. One animal study from New York University found that mice who were given high doses of antibiotics had lower numbers of T-cells, which is associated with obesity. And some experts suspect that the meat and dairy cattle could obesity epidemic.

While the steroid hormones given to also be contributing to the  FDA maintains that these hormones don't pose a threat to human health, it's worth thinking about: If steroids can make cows and steers get bigger, why wouldn't they have the same effect on the people who eat them?