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March 5, 2019 • read
Do organic foods prevent cancer?
Organic food is often too expensive to be attainable for everyone. But a recent study found that those who eat mostly organic food develop fewer cancers than those who don’t. As the debate rages on around organic food and cancer, many of us wonder if we’re putting ourselves at risk by not eating it. Is organic food really healthier than non-organic food?
What does the research on organic food say?
The study in question was conducted in France. Almost 69,000 participants, 78% of them female, were asked detailed questions about their diets, as well as about income, education and other health behaviours. The study indicated that participants who ate mostly organic were 25% less likely to get certain cancers.
While this study is interesting, it does not definitively answer whether or not organic food is really better for you. Participants were only asked about the foods they ate once at the beginning of the study, so there’s no way to know if their diets changed part way through. Additionally, the study’s researchers state that many of their participants were more educated and health-conscious than the average French citizen. Because of this, they were more likely to engage in other healthy behaviours, such as exercising and not smoking, which also reduced their cancer risk. This means it’s impossible to say whether eating organic was solely responsible for their lower rates of cancers. It’s very possible that the results were skewed by their other healthy habits. Certainly, we need further studies to address the organic factor on its own.
Are cancer and pesticide use linked?
The whole point of eating organic food is that it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. And while there’s no evidence that eating non-organic foods causes cancer, the same cannot be said for pesticide use at work.
A large number of studies show a direct link between those who use pesticides and herbicides (such as farm workers) and breast cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and brain cancer. Studies also show a direct correlation between use of these compounds and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in farmers and golf course attendants. For farmers, the connection is so pronounced that cancer rates increase in relation to the amount of land they spray. Worse, the damage doesn’t stop with them. It can also affect their children. Exposing pregnant women to garden insecticides increases the rate of all types of leukemia in their children, for example. Because of this, it’s understandable that pesticide use on fruits and vegetables makes some squeamish.
So is there a link between food and cancer?
Well, probably, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with organic versus non-organic. The risk of developing certain cancers is lower among those who eat certain fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether they are organic or not. Mouth cancer and stomach cancer are just two cancers whose rates are lower among those who eat more fruits and leafy greens.
What we do know for sure, however, is that increasing our fruit and vegetable intake lowers our risk of stroke and heart disease. So regardless of whether they reduce our risk of cancer, they are a must. The right intake of fruits and vegetables might also lower our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It could also keep our eyes healthy.
Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals and help to keep us healthy. Not to mention “regular.” We should all be eating “plenty” of fruits and vegetables every day according to the latest Canadian food guide. Take a quick look at the “typical” Canadian diet, however, and you’ll see that that’s not happening. Even in the most compliant group, women aged 35 to 49, only 40% are hitting the target. Given those numbers, we should all make a point of eating more fruits and vegetables every day — organic or not.
Should we all start buying organic?
Cancer is scary, and it’s understandable that people want to do something to protect themselves and their loved ones. However, there is no scientifically proven link between eating organic and cancer prevention. If eating organic is within your reach, then go ahead. But the focus for most of us should simply be on increasing the quantity of fruits and vegetables we eat, regardless of whether they’re certified organic or not.