One common misconception is organic is always healthier.
“Organic is just a label added to up the price of the food.” Yes, it is, in certain cases.
“Organic is always healthier.” Not necessarily…
“There’s no difference in nutrition between organic vs conventional foods.” Depends on what foods.
The label “organic” doesn’t automatically give a product the green light. An organic cookie is still a cookie. It just may have used a few organic items in the process, and the price will probably be double or triple the regular cookies. It’s still a processed product, no matter how you label it. Let me know if you ever find a cookie tree in the wild. Seriously, I’d love to see that – cookies are one of my favorite sweet treats!
The main concern with organic vs conventional foods is how the product was produced. This includes how the produce was grown, what the animals were fed, if genetically modified products were used, and more.
I’ll get into organic vs conventional animal products in another post, but conventionally grown animals are pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and other products that are found in the meat, milk, and other products we eat. Organic is a great step, and if it’s a priority for you, go for grass-fed or pasture-raised animal products. Local farmer’s markets are a great way to find these products, and you can ask the farmers directly about their practices, including sustainability practices and what they feed or how they treat their animals. This is obviously a personal decision based on your beliefs and budget.
What I really wanted to get into was organic vs conventional produce.
Every year, the EWG (environmental working group) publishes the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists, and just last week, they published the 2013 list. These lists compare the produce items with very high amounts of pesticides to items with low amounts of pesticides. The produce is tested as it is typically eaten. For example, bananas are peeled and blueberries are washed before testing. The results are based on factors, such as the percent of samples with pesticides and the total amount of pesticide residues.
Pesticides are, by nature, toxic. The suffix -cide means “kill,” and pesticides are designed to kill “pests,” such as insects, plants, or fungi. Relax – you’re not going do die from eating a bite of a conventional apple (unless you’re Snow White), and I’d rather have people eat fruits & vegetables than choose not to. However, pesticides are a factor to take into consideration, as they have several valid health concerns, especially to children and pregnant women. They have been linked to toxicity of the brain and nervous system, cancers, hormone disruption, and skin, eye, and lung irritation.
The effect is likely cumulative, meaning you won’t get cancer after 1 or 2 conventional apples, but over several years, the pesticides may play a negative role in your health. Babies in womb, infants, and children are especially vulnerable because their organ systems are developing, and a small amount of toxins can interfere with their growth and development – in ways, we may not understand yet! Choosing organic vegetables also eliminates the risk of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Conventional zucchini, Hawaiian papaya, and sweet corn may be genetically modified in this country.
The Dirty Dozen lists the top 12 fruits & vegetables that have the highest amount of pesticides on them. If you choose to buy organic produce, focus on the produce items on the Dirty Dozen. Remember, they were tested after being washed and peeled, if applicable, so make sure to wash ALL produce before eating it! Washing can remove some pesticide residue, but it also decreases your risk of foodborne illness, such as salmonella (yuck!). You can check out the full list, which ranks the top 48 commonly purchased produce items.
- Sweet bell peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Hot Peppers
The Clean 15 list are the produce items least likely to be contaminated with produce. Again, make sure you wash the produce before eating it.
- Sweet Corn
- Frozen Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
One way to minimize your risk is to buy local. Often, you can talk directly to farmers at farmer’s markets. Many of them don’t have the actual “organic” label because it is an expensive certification, but you can ask them about their practices. Plus, the quality can definitely be better. Hand-picked, fresh, juicy strawberries are much better than store-bought strawberries from Florida, in my opinion!
Take a look around the EWG’s website for more information, and you can download your own list to carry around for the grocery store!