The Facts on Organics
When and Why to Invest
Week after week, aisle after aisle, the grocery store puts you to the challenge: select the right foods for your family and do it without blowing your budget. Today that test is tougher than ever, especially when it comes to produce.
The choice is no longer just apples or oranges, berries or bananas. Now you have to decide between conventional produce and organics. Before the bounty of spring fruits and vegetables hit the shelves, here are some facts to help you sort through the options.
Organic = Healthier?
No longer limited to specialty or health food stores, organic has gone mainstream. Its popularity stems from the consumer’s desire to remain mindful of what, exactly, they are putting in their bodies.
“People are more concerned with the safety of food now,” says Carole Havrila, a registered dietitian with the UVA Cancer Center. “They don’t want to have to worry about chemicals or hormones.”
The federal government evaluates all products claiming to be organic to ensure that they are produced without chemicals, additives or manmade pesticides. “The perception is that organics are healthier,” says Havrila. “But there is limited research to date to support this.”
Over the long-term, Havrila says that some studies have shown that ingesting significant amounts of pesticides may be harmful. But when it comes down to it, “residue levels on conventional produce have been studied by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and are considered safe,” says Havrila.
Fact All Experts Agree On: the
health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables significantly outweigh the
risks of pesticides. So skimping on produce – whether conventional or organic –
is not an option.
When to Buy Organic
There’s no denying that organic often costs more than conventional produce. So it’s up to you to determine how to spend your organic dollars. Havrila recommends first taking a look at the “Dirty Dozen” list compiled by the Environmental Working Group. This list, available for download at foodnews.org, includes conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that contain the highest traces of pesticides. At the top of the list: apples.
“Most of us eat apples every day,” says Havrila. “So this might be one item you should consider buying organic. You don’t need to be eating chemicals over extended periods of time, so wash well or buy organic for those items you eat frequently.” And if your immune system is compromised or you have other health problems, organic may be the right choice for you. “If it puts your mind at ease, then absolutely its worth any added cost,” Havrila says.
How to Buy Organic
Just because it says organic on the sticker doesn’t mean it’s going to be fresh and squeaky clean. Organic growers may avoid pesticides but they still rely on standard practices to get their goods to market, sometimes shipping items cross-country. To ensure you’re getting the best quality, follow these tips:
Talk to your grocer. Find out where produce is grown and when your favorite items are being delivered to the store.
Buy in season. This will ensure freshness and may even save you some money. If you find a deal, freeze extras to eat later in the season.
Shop your farmer’s market for local produce. All locally grown produce is not organic, but at a market you can discuss growing practices with the vendors – and you’re sure to get items that are fresh. If items are not organic, just be sure to wash produce well, cut out bruised spots and peel items like apples that have a waxy skin because pesticides can build up under this top layer.