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Stroke Smart Magazine

March/April 2008

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Organic Foods

By Jonathan Bitz

By now we have all seen the term “organic” on food labels. But do we really know what
it means?

Simply put, organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy are foods produced without the use of chemicals. Animals on an organic farm have access to the outdoors. Organic farms are not necessarily small or local. Many large corporate farms have been deemed organic as well.

Consumers typically “buy organic” because of environmental and ethical reasons. But there are also health reasons to choose organic foods, especially for stroke survivors.

According to Dietician Laura Nyquist, R.D., research shows that organic foods are richer in flavonoids. Nyquist says that “flavonoids are natural plant pigments that can reduce the risk of stroke and have other health benefits. Quercetin, in particular, is a flavonoid with antioxidant properties that may help prevent stroke, heart disease and cancer.”

Organic foods may be richer in anti-inflammatory plant nutrients. Nyquist notes that, “Research published in the European Journal of Nutrition indicated that the organic soups studied contained higher amounts of salicylic acid (a natural anti-inflammatory plant nutrient) than the non-organic soups.” Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, salicylic acid is sometimes used in disease prevention.

Another health issue concerns pesticides. The average American carries around 13 different pesticide residues. Recent reports indicate that this can have health implications. In children, for example, pesticides may increase risk of leukemia, brain tumors and brain development disorders.

In addition, growth hormones injected into cattle to make them grow faster can lead to an increase in some cancers and interfere with the reproductive system. In the United States, antibiotics are given to cows, chickens and pigs as additives in their feed. This high use in our food sources can lead to resistance among humans to important antibiotic drugs.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that organic crops contain higher amounts of vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus than non-organic foods. Average antioxidant levels also are higher in organic foods.

One drawback is that organic foods typically cost more. For example, organic milk runs 50 to 100 percent more than non-organic milk. Analysts predict that these prices will eventually drop.

Some say buying organic is a waste of money and that organic foods actually are less healthy. A few organic products (eg, chips, cookies, granola and cereals) do contain more sugar, fat and/or calories. Also, organic foods are not always completely free of chemicals. For a product to be deemed “organic” it must be 95 percent free of chemicals, not 100 percent.

More studies are on the horizon. But even with the current research, the health advantages are noticeable. And for some people, a small chance that organic food could help prevent stroke and cancer may be reason enough to give it a try.


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