Organic Produce: Health or Hype?

Grocery stores increasingly feature fruits and vegetables labeled “organic” at premium prices.  Eating organic can put a strain on your food budget.  Does the benefit outweigh the risk?  

Should you eat organic?

Perhaps.  Consider the following:

America’s agriculture serves a burgeoning population.  As rich topsoils become exhausted nutrients are largely replaced by inorganic fertilizers.  These generally provide one or two macronutrients, but do not replace essential micronutrients.  Moreover, rapid growth promoted by fertilizers gives plants little time to accumulate soil nutrients, minerals in particular, required for healthy plant immunity.  Whereas organic produce depends on mineral rich, living soils and naturally occurring substances and organisms for pest and disease resistance, commercial crops need pesticides and other chemical applications to survive, rendering high-yield commercial crops lower in nutrients and higher in pesticides.  But it doesn’t stop there: poultry and livestock raised on these crops adopt similar characteristics.

This problem is not new.  As far back as 1936 Dr. Charles Northern warned the Senate of the impact of depleted soils on our food supply as follows:

“Laboratory test prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs, and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago (which doubtless explains why our forefathers thrived on a selection of foods that would starve us!)  No man today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his stomach with the mineral salts he requires for perfect health, because his stomach isn't big enough to hold them!”

More recently an examination of minerals in produce from1940 to 1991 shows vegetables lost nearly 40% of mineral density.

Does “organic” translate to better health?  Reduced exposure to pesticides is an important benefit.   A recent study showed children with ADHD had the highest concentration of pesticides in their urine.  Some types of pesticide are suspect in the occurrence of Parkinson's disease in adults.

When buying produce, transit time counts. Time spent in transit from farm to table means loss of precious nutrients.   You will never get better produce than organic produce lovingly cared for in your own garden.  If you don't have a garden, local organic produce is optimal. Farmers' markets provide wonderful opportunities for healthy eating in season.  

Even if you do not eat entirely organic, you can still help protect yourself from pesticides.  In its “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) makes it easy for you to avoid the most heavily sprayed produce, the “Dirty Dozen,” and the cleanest, listed as the “Clean Fifteen."  Be sure to buy produce on the Dirty Dozen list organic.  The Clean Fifteen can generally be purchased without concern.  Purchase locally where available. 

References of interest (if you do not see a working hyperlink below, simply copy the address you want to go to, paste it in your address bar and press "enter"):

The “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”:

Study Links ADHD in Kids to Pesticide Exposure - TIME

Neuropsychiatric Evaluation in Subjects Chronically Exposed to Organophosphate Pesticides -- Toxicological Sciences