Like many of you, I try to stick to a budget when I’m at the grocery store. I compare prices, always buy whatever’s on sale, and ask myself if I really need something before tossing into my cart. But there’s one thing I’m always willing to pay a little extra for: organic produce. Many wonder if organic produce is really worth the extra cost, because, let’s face it: organic produce isn’t cheap. It can be twice, even three times, as expensive as conventional fruits and veggies. But, after reading about the differences between the two (and about the potential dangers of pesticides), I think it’s worth the extra money to keep poisons out of my (and my kids’) body.
So What’s the Difference?
Nutritionally speaking, there really isn’t too much difference between organic and conventional produce. Some advocates claim that organic foods are nutritionally superior, but studies have shown that they’re basically the same. So, no one really knows the answer to that question. Fruits and veggies are healthy, period, both organic and non-organic. However, conventional pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, and ionizing radiation are NOT used in organic produce. And this is HUGE. Conventional pesticides are damaging to our health, and some studies suggest that they’re linked to many diseases, including cancer. So when you eat organic, you’re putting far less pesticide residue in your body. Plus, conventional farming practices and chemical pesticides aren’t good for the environment. Those toxic pesticides get into our water, air, and soil. And when chemical pesticides get into the soil, the nutritional value of our food can be compromised. Organic farming produces healthier soil and less pollution and uses only natural fertilizers (however, organic farming methods are more expensive than conventional, hence the steeper cost).
In order to be considered organic, farms that produce organic foods must adhere to strict federal standards set by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. So that means someone in the government has inspected the farms and has verified that they don’t use conventional pesticides, etc. You’ve probably noticed that little green and white symbol (see below) on organic foods.
The Pesticides Literature Review analyzed several studies that were done about the health effects from chemical pesticides and found evidence that exposure is linked to cancer, nervous system diseases and reproductive problems. Other studies have linked pesticide exposure to Parkinson’s disease, lymphoma, asthma and more. Pesticides can disrupt hormones, and lead to cancers that are hormone-dependent, like breast and prostate. They can irritate skin and eyes, and cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. A study by the University of California-Berkeley found a sixfold risk of autism for children of women who were exposed to pesticides. The National Cancer Institute found a very high incidence of leukemia and other cancers among American farmers. The list goes on and on. The one thing to keep in mind is that no study can conclusively prove that the pesticides cause cancer. But these studies show a compelling link.
But here’s the good news – there ARE plenty of fruits and veggies that have been deemed “safe” to buy conventional. Check out the “Dirty Dozen/Clean 15” list below. It lists the produce with the highest, and lowest, amount of pesticide residue. Just about everything on the clean list has a hard surface that doesn’t allow pesticides to penetrate the skin, which people usually don’t eat. The foods on the dirty list don’t have a tough outer skin, and absorb more pesticide residue.
One VERY important thing to keep in mind, after reading all of this is – despite studies that show a link to health problems, the jury is really still out on the effects of pesticides on humans. I’m somewhat of a hypochondriac and health nut, so I’d rather not take the chance. So there are some foods, like apples and spinach, that I will only eat if they’re organic. However, it’s better to eat conventional produce than none at all. Buy organic when you can, but don’t skip the fruits and veggies if your only option is conventional produce. The risks of NOT consuming fruits and veggies outweigh the risks from eating non-organic foods. So buy organic when your budget allows… maybe buy organic on a few of the foods on the “dirty dozen” list, but make sure to eat a lot of fruits and veggies, organic or conventional, every day for better health!