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Does "Organic" Mean it's Better for You? PDF Print E-mail

Organic fruits and vegetables cost more, but they may have other advantages over conventionally grown produce

As you examine the offerings in the produce section of your local grocery store, a decision arises.  On one shelf sit the tomatoes you’ve always purchased.  Next to them are tomatoes bearing the "organic" seal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

They should look about the same, but the organic varieties cost more.  Still, "organic" just sounds better tasting and better for you.  Yet most research, including a study published in September 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has found little to no difference in nutritional value between organic and conventionally grown produce.

Organic fruits and vegetables have some advantages:  They’re grown largely without the pesticides and herbicides of their conventional counterparts, and organic farmers must adhere to more environmentally friendly practices, such as water and soil conservation.  So consider these factors if you "go organic".

What it takes to be organic

Organic and conventional fruits and vegetables differ in the way they are grown, handled and processed.  Unlike conventional growers, organic farmers do not use ionizing radiation, genetic engineering, sewage sludge fertilizers and most conventional pesticides when growing their crops.

The USDA organic seal may be placed only on two types of products:

* Organic:  These products are at least 95 percent organic, and any remaining ingredients - including biological pesticides derived from natural sources - must appear on a list of approved organic substances.

* 100 Percent Organic:  These contain only organic ingredients and were not grown using pesticides. 

Products containing at least 70 percent organic ingredients may use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and can list up to three such ingredients on the display panel. 

Those that are less than 70 percent organic may not use the word "organic" anywhere on the packaging, but may list the ingredients that were produced organically.

When to Go Organic:  Based on data from nearly 87,000 tests for pesticide residue in produce, the non-profit Environmental Working group has compiled its "Dirty Dozen", the 12 fruits and vegetables usually most contaminated with pesticides.  Consider buying organic versions of this produce.  The organization also lists the "Clean 15," those fruits and vegetables that tend to be lowest in pesticide residue.

The Dirty Dozen                   The Clean 15
1.  Celery                              Onions
2.  Peaches                          Avocado
3.  Strawberries                    Sweet Corn
4.  Apples                             Pineapple
5.  Blueberries                      Mangos
6.  Nectarines                       Sweet Peas
7.  Bell Peppers                    Asparagus
8.  Spinach                           Kiwi
9.  Kale                                 Cabbage
10.  Cherries                         Eggplant
11. Potatoes                         Cantaloupe
12. Grapes (Imported)          Watermelon
                                             Sweet Potato
                                             Honeydew Melon                

Get the most of your produce - Regardless of whether or not you buy organic, thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, even if you peel or don’;t eat the skin.  When you cut into that unwashed melon, for instance, you take any contaminants from the rind and carry them into the flesh of the fruit.

Similarly, wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards and any other surface that comes into contact with the produce.  And for produce with a rough exterior, use a brush to clean all the ridges of the skin.  When possible, buy produce that’s in season and grown near your home, and ask your local grocer what day new produce arrives.  And despite any concerns about pesticides, include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Women’s Health Reporter
November 2010

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