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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

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

I am a vegetarian because I fear the eating of animals and what they may contain.

I have my own vegetable garden because I fear what chemicals that many farmers may be using to increase the quantity of output from their farms.

The prospect of a neighbor's garden contaminating my garden is very upsetting to me - I just need to stop eating.

Anonymous

09/26/2013 - 3:46am

I have been a very loyal/daily reader for a few years, and this is the reicpe that started it all! My husband and I eat it at least three times a month - however, we use the reicpe to make thin baked falafel chips, it's more fun that way. We usually dip them in a plain yogurt/tahini/parsley/cilanto/lemon dipping sauce YUM!Thank you so much for giving me both delish inspiration and something to do while I should be working!

Anonymous

09/19/2013 - 5:41am

Common sense says that if you eliminate poisons (pesticides, insecticides) from your body you will be more healthy and your body will function as it should. I think all our sickness/disease is directly related to diet. And we sure aren't getting any healthier or thinner are we? When it comes to studies they are usually biased based on who is paying for them. Kathie

Anonymous

08/10/2013 - 9:43am

Regarding cross contamination--some years ago our next door neighbors were getting their lawn treated by trugreen chemlawn. I made the mistake of walking across my own lawn with bare feet. I ended up with second degree chemical burns on the bottoms of my feet. My daughter was a toddler at the time. Thank heaven she wasn't outside playing

Anonymous

07/24/2013 - 2:10pm

This is a good scoop for my science work. Thanks

Anonymous

07/22/2013 - 7:57am

"To the comment on who certifies the food, I was just thinking the same thing.
How can we really prove that the organic foods that we buy at a local grocery
store are truly free of pesticides, etc. Also, they could be cross contaminated
and who knows what happens to the food during shipment.."

In the worst case there are traces of pestizides in organic food due to neighbor-farmers
who spray pestizides near organiccally farmed land. Hoiwever, you can be certain, that
all non organic food is much more contaminated with pestizides.
Eating better instead of more could be the solution if one has to economise, or if suffering of obesity.
Erich Hartl, www. organicwinepure.co.uk

Anonymous

07/15/2013 - 10:11am

I would like information on if organic foods would be better for my son who is autistic. I know that autistic children handle foods differently so I was wondering if the additives are maybe contributing or if he can not process them? Any information would be appreciated!

Anonymous

07/07/2013 - 11:50am

It is helpful to see which foods are better to buy organic and which ones do not matter as much. Thank you for the information!

Anonymous

05/28/2013 - 3:44am

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