Do I Need to Buy Organic Fruits and Vegetables?

To buy organic, or not to buy organic. That is a big question these days, isn’t it? But it is not a simple one and there are several factors to consider; health, environmental impact, ethical concerns and biological sustainability just to name a few. Now, I don’t consider myself qualified to comment on most of these, so I will limit my discussion to health considerations.

The fact is that these days consumers are becoming more aware and health-conscious when it comes to deciding what goes inside their bodies. And with more and more studies linking exposure of pesticides to long-term health problems, the ever increasing numbers of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and our soils becoming more deplete of nutrients the idea of buying organic becomes a more attractive option for many, despite their higher price.

To be clear, organically grown foods must be free of synthetic pesticides, grown in safe soil, and must not be genetically modified in any way.

Many people will tell you that organic foods are healthier because they contain more nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, the research on this is inconclusive and the majority of studies have failed to show any significant difference between the nutritional value of conventionally grown foods and organics. In other words, organic fruits and vegetables don’t appear to offer any nutritional advantage over non-organics.

But then there is the issue of pesticides. Generally speaking, organic fruits and vegetables contain less pesticides, and the ones they do contain are naturally sourced, meaning that they can be broken down more easily by our bodies and in nature so they don’t tend to accumulate and cause the same long term health issues attributed to many synthetic pesticides. Of course that is not to say that “natural” pesticides aren’t harmful (they are) and you don’t have to wash your organic produce (you do).

So what is one to do? Well, fortunately, every year the Environmental Wrok Group produces its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides which lists those foods with the most pesticide residues. It is an excellent resource to help you decide when you should be buying organic if you are looking to limit your pesticide exposure (and really, why wouldn’t you be?). When it comes to choosing fruits and vegetables that make the “Dirty Dozen” list, I always try to look for organic options. The 2011 list is as follows:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines – Imported
  7. Grapes – Imported
  8. Sweet Bell Peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries – Domestic
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/Collard Greens

Of course there are other reasons why one might want to buy organic too. Organic farming is a more sustainable practice that is better for the environment, it is good to support organic farmers and organic foods just plain taste better (in my opinion, anyway).  Many people are still turned off by the fact that organic foods cost more. But as organic farming becomes more mainstream, the price difference keeps becoming smaller and smaller. In fact, for some foods there isn’t a difference at all any more.

For a list of Certified Organic Growers in the Hamilton Area, click here.