How do you decide if you should buy organic food?
When discussing ways to add more fruits and vegetables to the diet, the topic of conversation frequently turns to whether it is better to buy organic produce.
When navigating the supermarket, you will generally see two types of produce displayed, either 'conventional' or 'organic.' Conventional refers to produce that has been farmed with the application of pesticides. According to the USDA "organic is a labeling term that indicates that food or other agricultural products have been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used."
The scientific research on organic verses conventional foods and cancer risk is not conclusive enough for specific guidelines to be determined. At this time there is no clear research to suggest that organic foods can prevent cancer or other diseases or that organic food is consistently higher in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Therefore, the decision to choose organic or conventional produce is ultimately a personal health choice.
For those who decide to purchase organic produce for lower pesticide residues you may find the Environmental Working Groups "Clean fifteen" and "Dirty Dozen" to be a helpful resource. This is an annual shoppers guide that outlines 15 lowest incidence of pesticide residue when grown conventionally and the 12 produce with the highest incidence. This can be a practical way to prioritize which produce you choose to purchase organically versus conventionally to stretch your food dollar the furthest.
If your decision to choose organic is driven by environmental concerns you may also want to consider the benefits of purchasing local produce through co-op, farm shares or farmers markets. The USDA controls the labelling of organic produce, which can be a costly process for small farms, but when you shop small you can talk to the grower directly about their farming practices. You also have the added benefit that local produce has the potential for higher nutrients as it generally is picked fresh and sold directly to the consumer as opposed to the produce at your supermarket that may have travelled much further before reaching your kitchen.
The bottom line is that the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks associated with pesticide residue. Phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables (organic or conventional) promote immune support and detoxification in the body and are excellent sources of disease-fighting nutrients.