Psychosomatic anxiety about nonorganic produce??
January 21, 2015 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I have hormonal imbalances like crazy, mostly related to PCOS (with some bonuses). I feel better when I eat organic vs. nonorganic, could this be possible, or am I psyching myself out?

I have a lot of imbalances that go along witch PCOS (plus some added bonuses). I've been eating mostly organic (90%) for a few years before my move to NYC, now it's super inaccessible to me in my location. I was raised to believe that GMOs and pesticides/herbicides in nonorganic produce is so bad that it would be better to stop eating veggies all together in between shopping trips. Is this fear of GMO and pesticides totally unfounded? I'll literally eat quesadillas with organic ingredients for 2 weeks at home instead of going to a closer grocery store with non organic food. Is this conditioned behavior? Help me, please! FYI, Delivery services would double my grocery bill. I'm only one person.
posted by Kestrelxo to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, this fear is totally unfounded. Large amounts of pesticides are bad for you, of course, but wash your food well and it doesn't matter. There is nothing inherent about GMOs that is bad for you (of course, every single vegetable in the grocery store has been bred and modified and selected for, in some cases, thousands of years. You're not eating anything in a "natural" state). It's theoretically possible that a modification could be bad for you, but this stuff is pretty well tested.

Research on health effects has found no difference with organic vs. non-organic, which is not surprising because organic vs. non-organic doesn't pretend to affect the quality of the food. Standard produce is totally fine. Literally billions of people are eating nothing but standard produce every day, with absolutely no ill effects.
posted by brainmouse at 2:31 PM on January 21, 2015 [26 favorites]

This is not a real effect.

Have a friend give you a blind test with organic vs. non-organic produce side by side.

It's a billion million times more important to be eating pleb's vegetables than to be eating no vegetables at all.

p.s. Organic does not mean pesticide free.
posted by phunniemee at 2:32 PM on January 21, 2015 [24 favorites]

Which isn't to say, by the way, that what you eat can't make a difference how you feel - of course it can - but that it's organic vs. non-organic or GMO vs. non-GMO is not the thing that's having that effect.
posted by brainmouse at 2:32 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is it really that inaccessible? Just sign up for Fresh Direct. The prices for organic items are not going to be any higher than they would at an in-person supermarket.

A lot of supermarkets deliver, as well, at either no charge or with a $5-$10 flat surcharge. which is worth asking about if there's a store that carries organic produce which is slightly out of your way.

But, yes, your concerns about organic foods and GMO products are unfounded. All those pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers aren't great for the environment, but it's not worse for you to consume "conventional" produce than to simply never eat vegetables or fruits at all. The jury is still out on whether eating organic foods has any health benefits at all on the individual level.
posted by Sara C. at 2:35 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds like it could be bordering on orthorexia to me. It sounds like this is really interfering with your life, and it might not be a bad idea to see a therapist who specializes in working with people who have issues around food.

On organic produce, wash things well and you'll be okay. If you're really concerned, avoid the Dirty Dozen. But, I think the environmental concerns tend to be greater than the human health concerns, so while there are important reasons to prefer organic, you can only do what you can do within your current income and living situation. Just as you might not be able to give up ever driving a car or taking a plane flight (also bad for the environment, and potentially bad for your health if you get in a car crash), you might not be able to avoid ever eating a non-organic veggie again, and that is OKAY. Certainly you're going to be healthier eating fruits and veggies of any providence than cheese quesadillas every day.

There is NOT strong scientific evidence that GMOs cause a danger to human health. Every single food in the supermarket has been shaped by selective breeding, whether GMO or other methods (i.e. the corn we eat would NOT have grown like that in the wild!) Again, I think there are real reasons to be worried about GMOs, largely related to unethical practices by the companies that promote them and treatment of farmers -- but these concerns aren't about GMOs being a personal health risk to you. And, again, you can NEVER have a totally ethical diet that never harms anyone's just impossible in the modern world.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:38 PM on January 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

Organic is better for animals and the environment, but it's not a panacea for human health.

There are some GMOs that can really help the world, Golden Rice for example. It's fortified with beta-kerotine and it can help in areas where people are dying of malnourishment.

Moderation in all things is probably a good watch word. Sure, organics taste better, offer better varieties of veggies and fruits and it's good for the environment, but sometimes traditionally farmed produce is perfectly okay.

I try to buy organic when I can, certainly for the Dirty Dozen, but I'm okay with traditional for the Clean Fifteen.

But yes, I think that the hormone imbalances that cause PCOS may be exacerbating your anxiety about this.

Because most folks are more concerned about these issues, more organic items are available in regular supermarkets, and the food supply in general is getting better. No more antibiotics in chickens for example.

So read labels, buy the best quality you can (I have a thing for grassfed beef and dairy products) and eat lots of variety of fruits and veggies. THAT'S what will keep you feeling well.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:41 PM on January 21, 2015

Also - just noticed that your location was NYC. I would completely believe lots of organic produce might be inaccesible in some rural locations, but I'm a little confused at the claim that it's not accessible in NYC. I use Instacart when I'm not in the mood to trek to the store (no car), and while it's a little more expensive, it doesn't even come close to doubling my bill! And, I assume if you can't access organics in your area, you're using a neighborhood grocery? If you order through something like Instacart, you'll have access to larger groceries with lower prices, so it may actually even out in the end. You could totally order every other week and get a mix of long-lasting + perishable your salad greens in week 1 and save carrots and beets and apples for week 2. And get some frozen stuff like peas and fruit for smoothies for days when you run out/just don't feel like prepping.

Anyway, my opinions about GMO/non-organic foods not being the devil remain the same. But, if you want organic, I think it's definitely possible to get creative here without breaking the bank.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nth the above re: it not being a thing. I feel better when I eat more f/v then when I eat crap, but that's about it. And I'm a PCOS sufferer as well. It's food marketing gone berserk.

In addition to Fresh Direct, Peapod is insanely popular here. If you're a recent NYC transplant, check out the green markets when it gets warmer. Lots of local and organic options. Also farms in Queens and on Staten Island where you can pick your own if you want to talk to the farmers.
posted by TravellingCari at 3:09 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you go from "organic veggie-loaded diet" to "zero veggies because they're not organic" well yeah you're going to feel better on the first diet.
posted by lizbunny at 3:10 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm in my mid 20's and moved out here from a very cost-friendly, low-key state after my divorce so I'm currently trying to rebalance my money, energy, and time to attain any kind of normalcy. I'd like to stay organic. I hadn't heard of Instacart, and it looks really great! Thanks, friends.
posted by Kestrelxo at 3:13 PM on January 21, 2015

Response by poster: I don't understand why non-organic farming is bad for animals and the environment, but ok for humans with no impact? Don't pesticides seep in to the soil? And why people are totally ok with eating nonorganic, but some organic things?
posted by Kestrelxo at 3:29 PM on January 21, 2015

Besides everything else people said, there is hardly any GMO produce being sold in the US. A small percentage of sweet corn, a small percentage of zucchini, and some papayas. There are no GMO tomatoes, no GMO greens, no GMO apples, etc. etc.
posted by neroli at 3:31 PM on January 21, 2015

Fear Sells and Marketers Know it

The organic industry likes to project a friendly image of small farmers and contented cows. But as this report extensively documents, the behavior of this multibillion-dollar industry is considerably less benign. (Source)

I would recommend you talk to your endocrinologist and ask him or her for some science based info on organic products and PCOS. I've been looking for that research for 15+ years. I don't think it exists. There's a lot of bad "science" being marketed.
posted by TravellingCari at 3:43 PM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Organic has seemed to matter most with leafy greens and berries, and dairy, but it also makes a difference with other foods. Here are some foods for which organic vs. non-organic makes the most difference.

While orthorexia is a real problem, and there are a lot of health trends (like gluten-avoidance for people who aren't really gluten sensitive) that make no real sense, organic produce is not one of them. It is actually healthier for you (as well as being better for the soil, for insects including bees, and for other reasons). I realize that The Guardian isn't the same as the journal Nature, but this is the first article I found which seems to make sense.

Please don't conflate organic with less-well-founded recent food trends. It does make a difference. It's not perfect, and many producers may conform to the letter of the "organic" specification without doing everything right, but buying organic is way better than just buying the cheapest, prettiest things you find.

As for whether it makes a difference for you particular condition, I couldn't say. However, organic produce often tastes better and is probably better for your health in many other ways.
posted by amtho at 5:18 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

@amtho - fair enough, if the choice is between organic produce and non-organic produce. There's a reasonable argument to be had there, at least for certain produce items. But are you really suggesting that NO produce is better than organic produce (which is the choice here)? On its face, that seems very wrong to me. Sure, if you have access to both and can reasonably afford both without going bankrupt, opt for the organic if you can. But if the choice is to purchase conventional produce or to literally go without a fruit or a vegetable for two weeks, it is hard for me to see any argument for forgoing the conventional produce.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:30 PM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Time for a randomized vegetable trial? Have a friend help blind you and try organic vs. non-organic produce in a variety of meals & situations and try to determine if your effect is indeed real.

Disclosure: I'm a medical statistician
posted by z11s at 8:11 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hi. I have cystic ovaries and weird PMS things and my sister in law has full blown PCOS. I've worked on a number of small organic farms, and grew up in central CA where 50%+ of the nation's conventional produce is grown. Everyone above me speaks the truth.

...GMOs and pesticides/herbicides in nonorganic produce is so bad that it would be better to stop eating veggies all together in between shopping trips.
Whoa, crazytalk!

Is this fear of GMO and pesticides totally unfounded?

I'll literally eat quesadillas with organic ingredients for 2 weeks at home instead of going to a closer grocery store with non organic food. Is this conditioned behavior?
YES. Eating quesadillas for two weeks - organic or not - instead of a well-balanced produce leaning diet would totally make me feel like crap too.

"Organic" used to be tied to a lot of other qualities (such as small, local, family-run, etc) and that is no longer the case. These are now all separate issues, all of which can intersect (or not). This is what organic means. Nothing more, nothing less. I know a lot of farmers who no longer certify - either because it's too expensive ($+time+record keeping labor) or because they object to the legalization of the term.

Conventionally grown produce is not nutritionally different, and washed whatever they sprayed it with should come off. Local/in-season produce will have a higher sugar content and taste better. I and my sister in law have both found some relief following modified versions of the Whole 30 diet - we eat lots of produce - LOTS. We're broke, so it's mostly conventionally grown. Personally, I'd put my money into no-hormone humane/organic/pastured meat & dairy. It seems like if anything were going to directly effect your PCOS, it'd be that.

I don't understand why non-organic farming is bad for animals and the environment, but ok for humans with no impact?

It's not okay for humans with NO impact. MANY crop dusters who work with these chemicals directly and regularly develop cancer (anecdata). It's not that they don't effect humans, it's just that the the minimal amount of contact you have with them by the time mature produce goes to market won't effect YOU. A lot of pesticides/herbicides are sprayed at various points in the growing season - not necessarily on mature produce (see the list of 12 above, for example of exceptions). You're a fairly large animal, and you wash and cook your food. These chemicals seep into the soil, the water supply, etc. and are consumed at the time of spraying by very small bodied creatures who don't wash their food. Or it's specifically designed to kill them or one of their main food sources. It's also bad for topsoil.

Don't pesticides seep in to the soil?
Yup. Organic is better for the environment. Not perfect. Not no impact. Better.

And why people are totally ok with eating nonorganic, but some organic things?
Because some organic things fit into my budget and other don't, some crops are sprayed a lot more than others or with things of varying toxicity, and because there are a variety of issues at play that I care about. I also care about eating locally and in season when I can, supporting small family-run businesses, preserving genetic diversity (heirlooms and whatnot), humane pastured meat and dairy, etc. I also care about my budget (ha) and deliciousness. You can have any combination of these things in one business.

What we're all saying is that this is all one massive grey area that's become extremely complex. I'd recommend reading up on it - you might like NPR's The Salt. The big emphasis in the small farm community isn't "organic" - it's "know your farmer", since practices and certifications have become so idiosyncratic from farm to farm. Here's a link to NOFANY too.

I used to work on a farm on Long Island that's accessible to NYC by train, run by a very nice young couple. Memail me if you'd like me to put you in touch.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:19 PM on January 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

PS - About GMO

I'm against GMO's not because they're good/bad for you, but because we're talking about a corporation (Monsanto) owning the patents to the world's food supply. That freaks me the f*ck out.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:20 PM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

I think you're psyching yourself out. As for "why people are totally ok with eating nonorganic, but some organic things?", I'm kind of a jerk but 1) I don't notice a difference and 2) I don't care. I think I'm a well educated person and a relatively healthy person, and I think I eat more fruits and vegetables than the "average" person but I don't think I could care less about whether the produce I eat was organically farmed.
posted by kat518 at 9:22 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, the couple who run the farm I worked on... One has a degree in environmental science/farming and the other is/was a nutritionist. They're very reasonable and balanced. The farm is "better" than organic, but they don't bother to certify (so they can't use the word)... on the other hand they introduced me to an excellent Dominican food.... hotbar? at the back of convenience store. YUM. Not organic. They're knowledgeable but not puritanical. I bet they'd be happy to talk to you if you went out and volunteered for a day.

I can tell that produce that's ripe and in season tastes better, specifically a lot of good "eating raw" varieties don't ship well, so local helps too. But again, this isn't so much nutritional content as sugar content =) "Organic" may or may not signify any of the above.

Memail me if you have any other questions.
I'm done posting, promise!
posted by jrobin276 at 9:30 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you might be interested in this detailed article by Michael Pollan, in which he answers your question about why nonorganic food is bad for the environment but not necessarily for people. And if you like that, read the Omnivore's Dilemma!

Like Pollan, I choose to buy organic despite the health effects on an individual level likely not being major (or at least not proven). If you have PCOS, you might find more impact from cutting down on or eliminating sugar/carbs if you have insulin resistance. There is also some interesting research about the timing of meals and how it affects PCOS.

It's fine to eat organic because you want to, but if you're eating organic because not eating organic throws you into a state of high anxiety, I would also recommend talking to a mental health professional about it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:50 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here is a really simple way to think about it: Organic food is probably better for you, and the environment, but that doesn't meant that non-organic food is bad for you.

It's like a chicken breast is better for you than bacon, but that doesn't mean you should never eat bacon.
posted by empath at 6:52 AM on January 22, 2015

Thanks for asking for clarification, rainbowbrite. My comment was meant to be a counterpoint to the comments above it, which seemed to be dismissive of organic food. I love gluten, but I avoid non-organic produce. Not all newer nutritional practices are merely "trendy", and I fear that less-well-founded trends tend to make everyone suspicious of all kinds of selectivity.

Would I eschew all produce if I couldn't get organic produce? No.

If my limitations had to do with the difficulty of traveling to buy the produce I wanted, and not just the expense, what I would do is stock up on frozen organic produce (like green beans, kale, and maybe fruit for smoothies or baking) or buy a bunch of fresh produce and quickly prepare and freeze it myself. Actually, this is what I often do now.
posted by amtho at 7:59 AM on January 22, 2015

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