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June 12, 2018 • Healthy Eating & Nutrition

The Lowdown on Organics

Here are the “facts on organic” based on the best science to date.

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I imagine that many of you ask yourselves the same question. What follows are the “facts on organics,” and I hope you find them helpful in making an informed decision that will best serve you and your family.

Here are the facts based on the best science to date:

  • Choosing organic is clearly better for the environment.  This is demonstrable and occurs through numerous channels, including conservation of natural resources and less pollution for our water and soils.
  • Consuming organic foods reduces the body’s exposure to pesticides.  This has been confirmed through numerous scientific studies.  Adults and children who consume organic foods have measurably lower levels of pesticides in their bodies.  Perhaps the bigger question here is – “Are the levels of pesticide exposure received from eating conventional foods harmful to our health?”  At this point in science, we simply do not have the data to definitively answer this question.  Pesticides approved for use are reported to be safe at or below certain threshold levels.  It is clear however that pesticides are harmful to exposed farm workers, along with “non-target” wildlife and are definitely not healthy substances.

For children there are two additional caveats to consider on the safety front.  Because children consume more food calories per unit of body weight and because their cells are dividing at a much more rapid rate, they are at greater risk for potential toxic effects from pesticide exposure (a developing fetus is at the greatest risk).  Additionally, it is common for some kids to have very restrictive eating patterns with consumption of only one or a few types of fruits or vegetables on a regular basis.  If this is the case, they will experience a greater number of exposures to the same pesticides which can also exacerbate risk.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not-for-profit research organization devoted to improving public health and the environment, has determined that the produce that consistently has the highest pesticide levels include: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes (imported), nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, strawberries, and spinach.  Choosing organic for this group of produce will give you and your family the greatest reduction in pesticide exposure.  Spinach, strawberries, and celery are the worst of the bunch.  (I only buy organic in these 3 varieties of notoriously pesticide laden foods.

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  • Organic foods may or may not be more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.  Some scientific studies show conventional foods are just as nutritious, while others support the contrary. Based on my knowledge of the available data, the scale tips slightly in favor of a superior nutritional profile for organic varieties.  Organics generally have a bit higher mineral content because of the more stringent soil requirements for organic certification and in some cases, have a more robust supply of protective antioxidants.
  • Organic foods may or may not taste better.  Blinded taste studies are basically a wash.  For those that think organic tastes better there is an equal number who find the conventional counterpart tastier.
  • Organic foods will generally spoil more quickly.  Pesticides clearly extend the shelf life and “freshness” of foods.  For optimal freshness, organic foods need to be consumed more quickly.
  • Organic foods are more expensive.  You will generally pay about 20% more for organic varieties.

So you see the answer is a complicated one and ultimately depends on your feelings towards the environment, pesticide levels, and your pocketbook.

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