Guest Blogger: Is organic produce worth the money?

Posted: June 17, 2011 in Guest Blogger
Rachel Hewitt

Rachel Hewitt

Is Organic Produce Worth the Money?
This is one of the most common questions I receive as a Nutritionist.  The short answer is yes, organic produce is better than conventional.
Here’s the long answer:

Let’s start by asking what exactly is “organic”?  According to the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO), Organic production is designed to :

  •  respect the environment through the responsible usage of soil, water and air, minimizing agricultural pollution
  •  protect the long-term health of the soil, encouraging soil biological activity and minimizing soil degradation and erosion
  • provide livestock with humane living conditions for their health and well-being
  • recycle materials and resources whenever possible and reduce the use of non-renewable resources

Organic production does not permit the use of:

  • synthetic pesticides
  • synthetic fertilizers
  • Sewage sludge (mmmm yummy!)
  • genetically modified organisms
  • ionizing radiation
  • no growth hormones for animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products

Here are some key reasons why organic is worth the money:

  • You get more for your money because organic foods contain more nutrients.  A 2001 study compared the nutrient levels in organic and regular foods.  In every case the organic crops had higher nutrient levels- 27% more vitamin C, 29% more iron, and 14% more phosphorous (2).
  • You avoid harmful pesticides and herbicides if you choose organic.  The definition of a pesticide is “a chemical preparation for destroying plant, fungal, or animal pests, also called a biocide (any chemical that destroys life poisoning).”  Would you ever knowingly drink a glass of Roundup or another pesticide? Then why would you eat it sprayed on your food?
  • You are helping the earth if you buy organic produce.  All of these pesticides and herbicides eventually end up in our soil and water which can end up harming other people, plants and animals.  The intention of pesticides is to kill pests that are going to eat the produce.  Unfortunately, they will eventually end up killing other non-pests such as bees, and we all know bees are essential for the reproduction of most plants. If we kill all the bees that means we no longer have any food!
  • Organic produce tastes better!  You can’t even compare an organic apple with a conventionally grown apple covered in wax!  Once you try it you’ll never go back.

Although organic produce is always better, sometimes cost and availability can be factors. Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group created The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides which ranks pesticide contamination for 53 popular fruits and vegetables. Nearly all the studies on which the guide is based tested produce after it had been rinsed or peeled (so you can’t use that as an excuse). Did you know that peppers have been treated with as many as 97 pesticides? The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides will help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. You can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce (3).

Dirty Dozen (buy organic):
1.    Apples
2.    Celery
3.    Strawberries
4.    Peaches
5.    Spinach
6.    Nectarines (imported)
7.    Grapes (imported)
8.    Sweet bell peppers
9.    Potatoes
10.    Blueberries (domestic)
11.    Lettuce
12.    Kale/collard greens

Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides):
1.    Onions
2.    Sweet corn
3.    Pineapples
4.    Avocado
5.    Asparagus
6.    Sweet peas
7.    Mangoes
8.    Eggplant
9.    Cantaloupe (domestic)
10.    Kiwi
11.    Cabbage
12.    Watermelon
13.    Sweet potatoes
14.    Grapefruit
15.    Mushrooms

References:
1.    Organic Council of Ontario. http://www.organiccouncil.ca/organic.sz
2.    Worthington, Virginia. Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional Fruits, Vegetables and Grains.  Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Vol 7, No 2, 2001.
3.    Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/

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