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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

My question is: why organic food is so expensive? if they do not use pesticides or insecticides,there is no reazon to be so expensive and that is why most of the people do not buy them.

Anonymous

01/30/2013 - 2:15pm

With out industrialization farmers and conventional farmers, we could NEVER feed the world! Our population is increasing at such a fast rate that if we all chose to eat organic, we would starve to death!

Anonymous

01/29/2013 - 11:06pm

I don't need to be told what is healthy and unhealthy really. No matter what people say about organic food, i think it's just obvious that the old fashioned natural way is the best. My daughter only has organic food while my partner and i eat frozen iceland food because we don't have a lot of money. But for me, to make sure she has a good start in life, it's worth the sacrifice. I am always disappointed however at the amount of organic food in supermarkets. There is little choice, and they've often run out of the things we need. We tried Able and Cole, fantastic, but expensive. When you live in a city, it is very difficult to get to local farms as we can't afford a car. We do the best we can.

Anonymous

12/31/2012 - 5:17am

I support organic farming because its natural and safer than non organic. It treats our land with respect and dignity. It works in harmony with the earths natural cycle. Traditional farming is all about industrialization and not taking responsibilty for the damages done to our riparian zones and waterways, lakes and streams. I live in Iowa and I have no doubt that the extreme overapplication of fertilizers has led to the terrible state of our lakes and streams. As a consumer I chose to spend my money in a way that promotes the agricultural change that we need in this country.

Anonymous

09/27/2012 - 4:08pm

Does anyone know how organic food is Certified? Meaning who does the regulating? And who watches them? Government?

Anonymous

09/17/2012 - 11:01pm

You can heed all of the above and then along comes West Nile from a mosquito bite, and we are back where we started --- spraying on deet and insect repelents all over our bodies. The "natural" products aren't very good at repeling insects. Bon appetit, all. We can't all live forever.

Anonymous

09/05/2012 - 8:46am

I agree - the bottom line is eat what is natural and get a good balance of exercise. This is what makes a healthy person at a much lower risk of cancer and diabetes. Eat what God has given us and not what Man has made for us :0) Make time to prepare food versus making time to buy convenience foods.

Anonymous

09/03/2012 - 5:28am

I agree their is big debate whether organic food is more healthier than conventional food. But their is no room for suspicion that organic food is more safe to eat and less harmful as it does not contain any chemicals in it.

supraorganics.com

Anonymous

08/18/2012 - 1:39am

we should all eat organic,but we all don't because we do not know that it is bad for us nobody tells us it is bad because if they (they means the big food companys) do who will buy the unhealthy food. sure it is cheap but seriously if you had a choice to ethier be in a hospital or live until you are 100 i would choose to live to be 100 i eat all organic. you will be surpised that they have a lot of organic food like organic Marshmellows, cookies , chips, soda and all that good stuff and the best part is its all healthy and organic!!! by the way this is all coming from a kid if you dont belive me than you are lose!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous

08/08/2012 - 7:47pm

I'm 74 yrs. old, my diet has consisted mostly of fruits and veggie, I eat almost NO red meat, very little chicken, and some salmon. This has been my diet most of my life.Organic food has not been a big issue in my life so far. I do not like sugar of any kind and will not eat fried or fast food like burgers and chips. Have been to a fast food chain MAYBE,three times in my life, can't stand the stinky smell in those places. Sugar is the culprit of alot of the illnesses that exist in this day and age.
Organic food may play an important part in ones diet if they are babies or growing children. Children in the age group of 3-12 should not be fed carbonated drinks, neither should they be frequenting fast food chains. Parents are the teachers in a childs life and they are the responsible party to teach their children how to eat healthily. Organic may have some play in these children's lives but parents have a bigger part in teaching these how to eat. Organic has not yet been completely proven to be the answer to the food chain.

Anonymous

06/06/2012 - 5:23pm

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