There’s a lot of talk about organic produce and “clean” eating. It seems that everyone has a different opinion about what “clean eating” really means. One of my friends says she can’t eat any grains or beans, and another who also claims to be eating “clean” enjoys whole grains and beans and states they’re allowed in her diet. Regardless of their opinions about what actually constitutes a “clean” healthy diet, organic produce is a recurring theme in everyone’s conversation, and this is completely understandable. For many, the journey to healthy eating often begins by adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet. This often causes one to consider whether it’s better to eat organic produce.
Is organic produce really better? Is it really worth the additional cost?
Often, people complain that they can’t afford to eat organic produce. One solution is to plant a small garden and grow the food yourself which immediately provides you two obvious benefits. The first is that you get to eat food much closer to harvest than is possible with anything you buy at a store. Because I garden, I have literally eaten food from my garden within 10 minutes of harvesting which means that I am getting to ingest more of the nutrients present in the food. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago, most produce loses 30% of its nutrients within 3 days of harvest. This makes me wonder about the nutritional content of those year old apples that we’ve been buying at the grocery store. It also makes me wonder about produce that was shipped across country before landing in your shopping cart, and then your refrigerator.
The second benefit of growing food yourself is that you know exactly what was used to treat the soil and to keep away bugs. You don’t always know what’s on produce that you buy in the store, and this includes organic produce. A study published in 2008 found that organic produce had a significantly higher risk of fecal contamination when compared to non-organic produce. The organic produce from Minnesota farms had 9.7% contamination with generic e-coli compared to 1.6% of conventionally raised produce. The Canadian Food Inspector Agency reported that pesticide residue was found on nearly 50% of all organic produce in Canada over a two year period. This may be the result of contamination of soil or water. It may also be the result of pesticide drift from non-organic farms that neighbor the organic farms. Some of this contamination might also occur due to the organic produce being in contact with non organic produce after harvest.
Many people erroneously believe that organic produce is grown without pesticides. This isn’t true. There are certain chemicals that are not allowed on organic crops, but there’s a long list of synthetic substances that can legally be used. Some of these have been found to be harmful to humans, and often, organic farmers have to use more of these “approved” fertilizers to get the same results. This could result in more environmental contamination than occurs with conventional pesticides. If you’re thinking that produce grown in the USA is safer than produce imported from other countries, you’d be mistaken. In 2015, the FDA analyzed foods from 111 foreign countries. Of the 4,737 foods tested, 56.8% of them were completely free of pesticide residue. This was better than similar tests on domestic produce of which only 49.8% had no pesticide residue.
Clearly, paying the extra price to eat organic produce may not guarantee that you are avoiding pesticides.
Obviously, growing a garden is one solution, but it’s not for the faint of heart. I have seen many gardeners surrender after their gardens were reduced to a wasteland by bugs, rabbits, or birds. Often, growing a garden requires a learning curve that many people don’t have the stamina to undertake. Unlike our agrarian ancestors, we have the option of surrendering to the local fauna and running to the store. Our ancestors needed the garden to succeed in order to survive. Our household gardens today are not a matter of life or death, and when you’re doing battle with a crafty ground squirrel, it’s often easier to just give in and head to the nearest produce aisle. Ultimately, I managed to vanquish those pesky critters without the use of poisons.
This brings us back to our original question. When you arrive at the store, or farmer’s market, should you buy organic produce? Is it really what’s best for you? If you want to limit your exposure to pesticides and make an environmentally sound choice, organic produce may be the way to go, but remember that your body needs a variety of produce to be healthy. If you can’t afford to buy more than one head of organic lettuce or a bunch of organic carrots for the entire week, your nutritional needs won’t be met. Your body needs variety. If you can’t afford to buy enough organic produce to get your 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, then you might be better off buying non-organic produce. Our bodies function better and are more resistant to disease when we eat more fruits and vegetables.
So, what is my decision about organic produce? If you can afford it–and by afford it, I mean can you purchase enough organic produce to meet the nutritional needs of yourself and your family– then go ahead and purchase organic produce. If you can’t afford it, then I recommend that you purchase traditionally raised produce. I realize that this isn’t a definitive answer to our question, and I fully expect that it will undoubtedly result in some strong opinions. I firmly believe that it is far more important to be eating fruits and vegetables than to eat only organic. Not everyone has the extra income to afford organic. Regardless of whether you choose to eat organic produce or not, all produce should be washed before eating it. Even organic produce has been found to be contaminated, resulting in cases of foodborne illness.
There are some alternatives to fresh organic produce that are more affordable. Kroger introduced its Simple Truth Organics line in 2012. These products are affordable, and they are pledged to be free from 101 different ingredients. You can read this list of ingredients that you will never find in their Simple Truth Organic products at their website. I first heard of these products at the 2017 Everything Food Conference (#EFC2017), and I was very impressed by what I saw and heard. We had the opportunity to try several of their products at the conference and the quality was amazing. (Yes, this is my real opinion, and I’m not being paid to say this.)
If you’re unable to afford fresh, organic, produce, often you can purchase canned or frozen vegetables that are organic for less, and because these organic products are generally canned or frozen shortly after harvest, the nutrient content is comparable to fresh produce, and in some cases, canned or frozen may contain more nutrients than the comparable fresh product. This is especially true if the fresh produce has been sitting around for weeks or months. If you have a Kroger, or one of their affiliates, in your area, you should consider purchasing some of these affordable natural and organic products to add to your menu.
So, is it better to buy only organic produce?
- Organic produce can be contaminated with pesticides or e-coli, so buying organic doesn’t guarantee that you’re avoiding those risks.
- Buy organic if you can afford to buy enough to meet your nutritional needs.
- If you can’t afford it, buy conventionally raised produce or a combination of the two.
- Consider purchasing canned or frozen organic vegetables to supplement the fresh produce.
Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of personal choice. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but keep in mind the importance of having a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet on a daily basis.
Do you have an opinion about organic produce? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.
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