I’m often asked if buying organic food is worthwhile, particularly organic fruits and vegetables. My usual answer is “it depends”, which is generally not the answer people are looking for. But here’s my rationale: If your goal is to protect the environment, by all means buy organic, as organic farming methods are certainly more environmentally friendly than conventional farming.
However, if your buying decision is solely based on a belief that organic produce has greater nutritional value, you might want to reconsider.
Some Good Reasons to Buy Organic Produce
Organic produce is essentially that which is grown, harvested, stored and transported without the use of synthetic chemicals, irradiation or fumigants. Such farming methods are undeniably beneficial for the environment, as the chemicals and preservation techniques otherwise used in conventional farming can leach into water supplies and adversely impact agricultural sustainability and ecosystems.
Since human beings are an integral part of ecosystems and the environment is an important determinant of health, this is definitely a strong case for going organic. Opting for organic produce can also reduce your dietary exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, namely pesticide residues, which may have adverse health effects.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit environmental research organization that conducts annual laboratory reports that specifically highlight selected fruits and vegetables containing the highest amounts of pesticide residues. Interestingly, their most current findings show relatively higher levels in strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers (click here for the full EWG report).
Now, it’s important to understand that pesticides are extensively used worldwide and exposure can happen in a number of other ways (contact with treated surfaces or objects through touch or inhalation). So know that going organic doesn’t ensure protection.
The Real Nutritional Value of Organic Produce
Most people purchase organic fruits and vegetables in mass believing they’re healthier than produce that’s conventionally cultivated. Unbeknownst to many, there are no considerable differences in the overall nutritional quality of organic versus conventional produce.
Regardless of farming practices, all types of produce are rich in vital micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Some organic produce has been shown to house higher levels of certain antioxidants (vitamin C and carotenoids) when compared to conventional produce. However, differences in overall content are generally modest and can vary considerable from farm to farm and among different varieties of the same crop. Moreover, increased levels of these micronutrients hasn’t been linked to added health benefits or disease protection.
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