Organic Really is Better
Those of you who’ve read my book, or who have read my columns, will be aware that I’m a big proponent of organic food. I’ve always said organic is safer and better. Not only is organically grown produce less likely to contain pesticides and other contaminants—it’s also usually richer in natural phytonutrients.
These are plant compounds that usually don’t appear on any labeling. There’s no government mandate to list the antioxidant capacity of a given fruit, for instance. It’s great that we have so much nutrition information at our fingertips these days, but I sometimes think it’s a shame we don’t focus more on these overlooked, unique plant compounds. Vitamins, minerals and fiber are all important, but phytonutrients are often some of the most important nutrients you’ll get from a given plant food. And most will never appear on any nutritional labeling.
Many plants feature complex chemicals that provide unique and potent health benefits. Resveratrol, found in grapes and peanuts, is one example. Scientists are still investigating all the potential benefits of this particular phytonutrient. But you’ll never find it listed on a package of organic grapes, or on a bottle of wine, for that matter, even though many researchers believe resveratrol in wine accounts for some of wine’s considerable health benefits.
Rather than focus on the greater concentrations of phytonutrients that almost invariably occur when plants are grown organically, most people focus on what’s NOT there: potentially dangerous pesticides and other artificial chemical residues. That’s the big selling point for most people. But organic produce costs considerably more than conventionally grown produce, so many consumers remain unconvinced that buying organic is worth the additional expense.
Well, in case you were wondering, researchers at Boise State University have published a report that examined that question. Investigators looked at dietary exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides among 4,500 Americans from six American cities. OPs are the most common pesticides in use in United States agriculture. These insecticides have been linked to a number of health problems, especially among field workers.
Not surprisingly, they discovered that people who eat organic are far less likely to have been exposed to OPs than people eating similar amounts of fruits and vegetables grown conventionally. Incidentally, apples, nectarines, and peaches were among the worst offenders when it came to OPs.
"For most Americans, diet is the primary source of OP pesticide exposure," said Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in Boise State University's School of Allied Health Sciences. "The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies." Next, investigators hope to examine the links among greater pesticide exposure and the risk of various diseases.
If you’re on a budget, but would like to try reducing your intake of dangerous pesticides, consider visiting the Environmental Working Group’s website at www.ewc.org. They publish an annual list of “the Dirty Dozen” foods that are most problematic. These are the foods that you should buy organic first, because they are the ones that consistently contain the highest levels of pesticides.
Cynthia L. Curl, Shirley A. A. Beresford, Richard A. Fenske, Annette L. Fitzpatrick, Chensheng Lu, Jennifer A. Nettleton, Joel D. Kaufman. Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1408197