If you’re bypassing organic fruits and vegetables because of their higher prices, you may wonder if you’re shortchanging your health to save money. Even if non-organic produce isn’t doing you any harm, could organic be healthier?
In terms of nutrient quality, a scientific review of 162 studies published in 2009 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no significant differences between organic and conventionally grown produce.
On the worrisome side, conventional growing incorporates pesticides, and pesticide exposure has been linked to a range of risks, including cancer, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The big caveat: Most of the evidence comes from lab animals or people who handle pesticides directly, such as farm workers.
Those exposures can be thousands or hundreds of thousands of times greater than what consumers are exposed to, says Carl Winter, PhD, a toxicologist at the University of California, Davis. His research indicates traces of pesticides in the American diet are “tiny fractions of the level that would spark even preliminary concern,” he says.
The benefits of produce, on the other hand, are well established. Researchers have calculated that if half the U.S. population ate one extra serving of fruits and veggies each day, up to 10 additional cancer cases from pesticides would occur annually – but the nutritional benefits would prevent up to 20,000 cancer cases annually.
A Personal Choice
Registered dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, favors a better-safe-than-sorry approach. She recommends choosing organic as much as possible. “Our bodies are amazingly capable of doing detox, but everybody’s ability to handle these chemicals varies,” she says.
Experts also recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize potential exposure to a single pesticide and to thoroughly wash produce before it hits your plate. (You can skip the soap and veggie washes, though; a 30-second scrub in running water works just as well, researchers have found.)
Whatever you do, don’t skimp on fruits and veggies for fear of pesticides. “Bottom line,” says Angelone: “Eat more produce.”
Which Produce Is Best Organic?
Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center last year released a detailed report on pesticides in produce that considered factors including amount of pesticide residue, toxicity and average serving sizes. According to its findings, organic is your best bet for the following fruits and vegetables, which made its list of the riskiest produce.
- Green beans
- Bell peppers
- Hot peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Author: KIRSTEN WEIR for Arthritis Today
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