One of the main points of eating healthy is enriching your diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. But a question that many people are asking these days is whether you should buy these foods organic or not.
What Qualifies as Organic?
In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture set the standards for organic food as follows: “Organic crops must be produced without conventional pesticides (including herbicides), synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Organic farm animals must have access to the outdoors, including pastureland for grazing.”
Is Organic Food Safer?
Pesticides: When it comes to pesticides, the answer is very obvious. Organic food is less likely to contain pesticide residue than conventionally grown food. However, the quantity of pesticide residues found in conventional food is way below the levels of being qualified as unsafe. One issue remains unsolved: will these small doses of pesticide add up to an increased health risk along the years?
Natural Toxins: Besides pesticides being a threat to food safety, there is also the issue of natural toxins that are produced by the plant itself. In this area, conventional foods have the upper hand on organic ones, because organic plants produce more natural toxins to grow and protect themselves; and these toxins are potentially more harmful than synthetic pesticides – for example, ingesting too much solanine, which is produced by potatoes as they turn green, can make you ill.
What you should do: Wash your fruits and vegetables. Experts agree that rinsing all fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not, is a safety measure everyone must take to get rid of bad bacteria or pesticide residues. Make sure to also wash items with inedible skin, like citrus fruits and lemons, because the knife can bring the contaminants to the inside when you cut it.
Is Organic Food More Nutritious?
Up until today, there is still no definitive proof that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. Some studies showed that the levels of vitamin C, antioxidants and some minerals are higher in organic produce, but the difference is so small and has no important impact on your overall nutrition. One thing is for sure though: if you want to get the most out of your food, it’s better to eat it fresh, because the nutrients will oxidize with time and you will lose their benefits. Plus, fresh food simply tastes better; and since most organic farms have smaller operations and sell their products near the point of harvest, people will tend to feel that organic food has more flavor compared to the bigger quantities of conventional produce from mass production companies.
Organic Food is better for the environment
Whether or not organic food is safer or more nutritious, there is still one more compelling reason to go organic: The health of the environment and society as a whole. Pesticides accumulate in the soil, in the water, and in our bodies; so by reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the organic produce, we are helping reduce the overall pollution.
Bottom line, until the verdict is out, we advise you to make the decision that makes more sense to you. If you can afford to buy organic and want to contribute to a more environmentally friendly production system, then organic is the way to go. You can also mix and match between organic and conventional foods based on what matters the most to you. If reducing the amount of pesticides is your concern, focus on buying these items organic: Spinach, green beans, apples, berries, peaches, pears, and squash. If you are more concerned about the natural conditions in which an animal is raised, buy products from organically raised livestock and poultry such as milk, eggs, cheese, meat, and chicken.
Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian