Is organic food really better for me than conventionally grown?
This question is an ongoing topic of debate in research. A large study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 examined the previous 50 years' worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods. The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foods are relatively comparable in their nutrient content. Research in this area is ongoing.
The research available on this topic tells us that organic fruit and vegetables generally are higher in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other healthy nutrients when compared with conventional produce. Studies tell us that organic fruit and vegetables have higher levels of vitamins C and E, iron, magnesium, carotenes, and some polyphenols. Carotenes and polyphenols are groups of nutrients found in fruit and vegetables and are believed to reduce disease risk.
People choose to ‘go organic’ for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to limit their exposure to food additives or pesticides, to be more environmentally conscious, or because they believe organic foods are healthier than conventionally grown foods. Because organic farming is a much more time- and labor-intensive than conventional farming, organic products tend to be more expensive than their conventionally grown counterparts. If you want to purchase more organic products but do not have an endless budget, consider purchasing produce from the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list. The Dirty Dozen are the twelve fruits/vegetables that generally have the highest pesticide content and are as follows: apples, strawberries, spinach, grapes (imported), potatoes, lettuce, celery, peaches, nectarines (imported), sweet bell peppers, blueberries (domestic), and kale/collard greens. In opposition lies the ‘Clean Fifteen’, which, as you can imagine, are the fifteen produce sources with the lowest pesticide content. Produce making the Clean Fifteen list are: onions, pineapples, asparagus, mangoes, cantaloupe (domestic), sweet potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, sweet corn, avocados, sweet peas, eggplant, kiwi, watermelon, and grapefruit. This list can also be found on the Environmental Working Group’s webpage at: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/.
Hundreds of research studies show that the more fruit and vegetables a person eats, the lower his or her risk of cancer and other diseases. These studies have been conducted on the general population, most of whom eat conventional produce. If the harm of the pesticides outweighed the benefits of these foods, we would not see the consistent protective effects of eating these foods (fruits and vegetables). But we do see these protective effects.
To sum up: Incorporate organically grown produce as you are able, but remember that the total number of fruit/vegetable servings outweighs the method of farming used to grow these products. The most important part about the organic vs conventional debate is the need to actually increase fruit and vegetable intake, and the recommendations to reduce risk for developing cancer are consuming 8-10 servings per day.