Nutrition and Fitness with Randa
12Jul/101

Is Organic Better?

Is organic really superior to non-organic? Is organic better for my health?  Is it worth the additional cost? Or is just a "fad"? These are questions I hear often.

Though this post could be a novel, here are some interesting, basic facts about organic foods:

What are organic foods?

  • Technically, organic foods are grown without pesticides and are not processed with chemicals like antibiotics, preservatives or hormones.
  • Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.
  • They are also produced in a manner that reduces pollution and conserves water and soil.

Are organics better?

  • Organic foods have lower levels of pesticides than conventionally grown food - children and adults who eat them have lower levels in their bodies.
  • Critics say: "So what? Pesticides are safe. Nobody has ever died from eating the small amounts of pesticide residues on food." Ummm, if they are harmful to farm-workers and kill pests, can they be good for you? Why should the government bother to regulate them if they are completely harmless and benign?
  • Are fruits and vegetables better if they are organic? Probably, but not necessarily for nutritional reasons. Consider the words of Joan Gussow, former head of the nutrition department at Columbia University: "Isn't the most important story that organic production conserves natural resources, solves rather than creates environmental problems, and reduces the pollution of air, water, soil...and food?"

So what?

  • Wash those veggies before eating them, especially if they have been sitting on shelves in the produce section getting misted at regular intervals. In the teeth-gritting words of Marion Nestle: "It is best not to look too closely at the misting devices...some are covered with green algae or encrusted with mold." So wash up! Washing cannot remove all microbes, but it takes care of most of them.
  • Pesticide-free produce may not look as pretty, but if you want fewer pesticides in your body, buy organics.  (The cost or organic produce is definitely a factor for many, so if you are considering organic and when to spend your money on it - check out the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen list below)

What’s the Difference?
EWG research has found that people who eat five fruits and
vegetables a day from the Dirty Dozen™ list consume an average of
10 pesticides a day. Those who eat from the 15 least contaminated
conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2
pesticides daily. The Guide helps consumers make informed choices
to lower their dietary pesticide load.
Will Washing and Peeling Help?
The data used to create these lists is based on produce tested as
it is typically eaten (meaning washed, rinsed or peeled, depending
on the type of produce). Rinsing reduces but does not eliminate
pesticides. Peeling helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the
drain with the skin.

The best approach: eat a varied diet, rinse all
produce and buy organic when possible.

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  1. Based on a reader’s question: So if I can’t find organic of the dirty dozen, is it better to not eat it at all than to get what nutrients might be in them and ingest the pesticides?
    My recommendation is to still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and follow these tips: Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water to reduce the amount of dirt and bacteria. If possible, use a small scrub brush before eating produce in which you eat the outer skin such as apples, potatoes, cucumbers.
    You can also peel fruits and vegetables and trim outer leaves of leafy vegetables. Keep in mind that peeling your fruits and vegetables may also reduce the amount of nutrients and fiber. But to ensure the highest quality of nutrients, try to buy your produce the day it’s delivered to market to ensure that you’re buying the freshest food possible. You can ask the grocer what day new produce arrives.


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