A few years ago, a study came out of Stanford claiming there is little health benefit to be gained from consuming organic foods. I find this study and the whole organic versus conventional debate tiresome. It is just another myopic way to view nutrition.
Do we eat oranges because they contain vitamin C, or do we eat oranges because they are juicy, bright, sweet, delicious, and filled with sunshine? Sure they are rich in vitamin C and fiber, but an orange also contains an array of protective compounds known as phytonutrients. While conventional and organic produce may have similar macro- and micronutrient profiles, they certainly differ where phytonutrients are concerned.* Phytonutrients are chemical compounds found only in plants — think of them as the space between musical notes, little discussed, but integral to the very essence of music.
Nutrition science has barely scratched the surface of what phytonutrients have to offer. We know phytonutrients, while not essential, are exceptionally beneficial. Thus, it is misleading to say there is no difference between organic and conventionally raised animals and produce. In addition, since research about phytonutrients is lacking, we do not know how they might have a synergistic effect on digestion and absorption of nutrients.
In the great ‘organic versus conventional’ debate it always comes down to one thing for me. The motivation for buying organic is not to get more nutrients, but to avoid what we know to be cancer-causing and endocrine-disrupting – pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Not only are pesticides harmful to our health, but they are devastating to our environment.
As an Outpatient Oncology RDN, I would love to see all my patients with access to affordable, organic foods. Unfortunately, cancer treatment is expensive and spending the extra money on organic can be a financial hardship. Here are some tips for produce buying:
- Environmental Working Group has wonderful resources to help guide consumers to healthier products, including the Clean Fifteen (a guide to produce with the least amount of pesticide residue) and the Dirty Dozen (a guide to produce with the most pesticide residue) lists.
- Try buying organic produce when it is in season – it is less expensive.
- Buy frozen when it is on sale. Frozen produce can be as healthy as fresh.
- Visit your local farmer’s market. The USDA Organic certification process is expensive, so many smaller farms are unable to afford it. You can talk to the farmer at the stand to see if they grow organically.
- Grow a garden. Even if it is small, an herb garden or potted tomatoes are a great way to start eating organic.
- Eat less meat. Yes organic meat is expensive, but spending more and eating less can have a real health and environmental impact – so splurge on the “good stuff.”
When people buy organic they are contributing to a cleaner, healthier environment, and thriving communities.