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Q. Organic—or Not? Is Organic Produce Healthier Than Conventional?

By Marissa Lippert, M.S., R.D., EatingWell In Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook (2009)

Organic—or Not? Is organic produce healthier than conventional?

A. There are at least two good arguments for eating organic: fewer pesticides and more nutrients. Let’s start with pesticides. Pesticides can be absorbed into fruits and vegetables, and leave trace residues. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, pored over the results of nearly 51,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides on 44 popular produce items and identified the types of fruits and vegetables that were most likely to have higher trace amounts. Most people have no problems eating conventionally grown produce but if you feel strongly about pesticide residues, the EWG’s list below should help you shop.

As for nutrients, in 2007 a study out of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom reported that organic produce boasted up to 40 percent higher levels of some nutrients (including vitamin C, zinc and iron) than its conventional counterparts. Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown berries and corn contained 58 percent more polyphenols—antioxidants that help prevent cardiovascular disease—and up to 52 percent higher levels of vitamin C than those conventionally grown. Recent research by that study’s lead author, Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis, pinpoints a potential mechanism to explain why organic techniques may sometimes yield superior produce.

It’s a difference in soil fertility, says Mitchell: “With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is released slowly and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance. Vegetables fertilized with conventional fertilizers grow very rapidly and allocate less energy to develop nutrients.” Buying conventional produce from local farmers also has benefits. Nutrient values in produce peak at prime ripeness, just after harvest. As a general rule, the less produce has to travel, the fresher and more nutrient-rich it remains.

A 2008 review by the Organic Center of almost 100 studies on the nutritional quality of organic produce compared the effects conventional and organic farming methods have on specific nutrients. The report’s conclusion: “Yes, organic plant-based foods are, on average, more nutritious.”

Bottom line: “Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in general is the point,” says Mitchell. If buying all organic isn’t a priority—or a financial reality for you—you might opt to buy organic specifically when you’re selecting foods that are most heavily contaminated with pesticide and insecticide residues. See next page for a handy chart for common fruits and vegetables.

 

Preferably Organic
—Most Commonly Contaminated*

If Budget Allows, Buy Organic

It’s Your Call
—Least Commonly Contaminated

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Summer Squash
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes - Domestic
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Cauliflower
  • Tangerines
  • Bananas
  • Winter Squash
  • Cranberries
  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potato
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

*Listed in order of pesticide load
Source: Environmental Working Group. Go to foodnews.org for updates. Updated June 2011.

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

If you shop at a organic store like Earth Fare most of the fruits and vegetables are the same price as conventional fruits and vegetables and they are organic you might find some of the things are a little more expensive um like the onions or spaghetti squash and especially milk (2$ more then regular milk) but that produce is on the list of not necessary to buy organic anyways so if you compare the cucumbers to the cucumber at a regular store or the eggs to the eggs a regular store or the carrots to the conventional carrots they are almost the same price I bought a bag of all organic apples and they were only a dollar more then a bag of conventional apples and the taste is outstanding! my cucumbers were the exact same price ..my eggs for 20 cents less.. and a lot of stores like that will have sales weekly if you keep up on it chicken that is normally 599 a pound will go on sale every Tuesday at the fresh market for 50 percent off... there are ways to afford organic food you just have to be smart about it and know the differences between the prices of organic and regular and what is necessary and unnecessary so everyone that is beif I hear honey I wanted to sit there all day I wouldn't eithering negative and saying that they cannot afford to get it it is untrue.. if you can't afford the things that are more expensive you can at least do a lot of the other things that are the same price and realize that you're cutting down on a large portion of the toxins in your body something is better than nothing

Anonymous

05/22/2014 - 3:16pm

It has nothing to do with money i dont eat organic foods & im healther than most people that spend half their lives eating it. I eat pizza, mc donalds all greasy foods so what the purpose OF organic why separate foods why cant all foods be organic to make the world healthier. just saying its just like this, WHATS THE POINT OF EATING HEALTHY IF YOU SMOKE CIGGRETTES DEFEATS THE PURPOSE..

Anonymous

05/21/2014 - 6:47pm

Y'all should stop fightin' about Non-Organic vs. Organic!!! Organic foods are better and that's that. All y'all people who can't afford Organic foods are Y'all should eat ORGANIC!!!!!

Anonymous

04/24/2014 - 2:24pm

I can't afford organic. I don't have food stamps. I'm gonna eat conventional fruits and vegetables cause that's what I can afford and I prefer fruits and vegetables over processed foods. I figure it's better to eat "contaminated" fruits and vegetables that to not eat them at all. I sure do wish I could afford to be preachy! Maybe once I finish graduate school.....

Anonymous

04/19/2014 - 8:26pm

The problem with some of the organics are that they do not sell as well, you get them home and the top looks fine, but they are overripe in the middle to the bottom. I don't think mold is healthy either.

Anonymous

04/05/2014 - 12:05pm

Im doing a research paper and all of you who think organic is not good? y'all are whack

Anonymous

03/14/2014 - 9:46am

i like pie

Anonymous

11/13/2013 - 12:00pm

You're not taking into account the GMOs present in so many of items on your list! Corn should DEFINITELY be purchased organic only, as approximately 88 percent of U.S. grown corn in genetically modified. If you are sincere about educating the public, then please be sure to take GM crops into account!
--Karen Mack

Anonymous

10/31/2013 - 10:45am

1. Most disease/sickness IS related to our diet, we are what we eat right?... 2. The rest is environment, including societal/personal beliefs... So to buy organic food or to go go vegetarian our of fear, you're likely better off eating poison blood foods, and poison produce than fealing fear all the time, and perpetuating it with reactions..

Anonymous

10/21/2013 - 7:22am

i like pie :P srry yall i think im gonna start with organic foods now

Anonymous

09/30/2013 - 9:04pm

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