Karen Malkin: There are at least two good reasons why I eat organic—and encourage my clients to do the same: Organic food contains fewer pesticides and more nutrients.
Chemicals in pesticides can be absorbed into fruits and vegetables, leaving behind trace residues that then get absorbed by your body. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) pores over the results of nearly 51,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides on 44 popular produce items and identifies the types of fruits and vegetables most likely to have higher trace amounts. Here are their 2018 lists; the “Dirty Dozen” list indicates produce with the highest amount of pesticides and the “Clean 15” list indicates produce with the lowest amount of pesticides:
Strawberries continue to top the Dirty Dozen list. It may be why you’re seeing more conventional strawberries on sale. One client told me she saw them for 75 cents at one store! If your budget doesn’t allow to buy all organic produce, strive to purchase organic at least for the items listed on the top of the Dirty Dozen list.
As for nutrients, a 2014 study out of Newcastle University reported that organic produce contained up to 60 percent higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols than its conventional counterparts. A 2004 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine specifically found that organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than those conventionally grown.
Many experts point to the improved soil fertility present in organic farm as a key differentiator. When using organic growing methods, nitrogen present in composted soil releases slowly so plants grow at a normal pace, with their nutrient profile in balance. However, when vegetables are fertilized with conventional methods, they grow very rapidly and therefore can expend less energy to develop nutrients.
Shopping at your farmer’s market or joining a local CSA as opposed to buying conventional produce also has real health benefits: Nutrient values in produce are at their highest at prime ripeness, just after harvest. As a general rule, your produce will be fresher and more nutrient-dense if it doesn’t have to travel very far.
If buying all organic isn’t in your budget, just you may opt to buy organic specifically when you’re selecting foods that are most heavily contaminated with pesticide and insecticide residues. And when buying conventional, merely make a point of rinsing your produce well before enjoying it—emphasis on the latter!