Organic Food for Thought
Forget the mottled apples, scrawny potatoes, and wormy ears of corn of the past. Today, most organic foods look as robust as conventionally grown foods.
You can find a variety of organic foods in supermarkets, club stores, and natural-food stores.
According to the Organic Trade Association, Americans spend more than $14 billion a year on organic foods. This part of the food market that has increased nearly 20 percent a year over the last decade. But are organics safer or healthier for the environment?
Pesticides and kids
A 2006 study in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at pesticide levels in 23 preschool children in Washington state. Researchers measured the levels before and after the kids switched to an organic diet. After the children were on the organic diet for five days, researchers could not detect any pesticides. The pesticide levels rose when the kids returned to their conventional diets. The study concluded that an organic diet provides an immediate protective effect against pesticides.
“But that’s only one small study,” says Keecha Harris, Dr.P.H., R.D., of Sterrett, Ala. She is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “More and larger studies need to be done before any conclusions can be drawn.”
In general, foods grown organically or conventionally contain the same kinds and amounts of vitamins and minerals.
But there may be advantages to going organic in terms of its impact on the environment, says Dr. Harris. Crops grown organically may not pollute the soil and water as much as those grown conventionally, she says.
What’s in a name?
Food labeled “USDA organic” must meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It must be at least 95 percent organic, meaning it must be grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers. It also can’t contain hormones or antibiotics.
To make organics truly healthier for the environment, buy local organic products as often as you can, Dr. Harris says. In addition to being fresher, locally produced organics don't have to be driven long distances, saving on fuel.
Seizing healthy savings
You can save on organic products by taking advantage of the following tips:
Compare prices at the supermarket. Fresh organic produce is often cheaper when you buy in season.
Hit the farmers markets. You can usually find organic produce there. It's often reasonably priced. Check http://www.localharvest.org for a list of organic farmers in your area. To make sure produce is organic, look for the USDA seal displayed in their booths.
Whether you buy organic or conventionally grown produce, thoroughly rinse all produce to get rid of possible pesticides and other chemicals.
For good nutrition, eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2-1/2 cups of vegetables every day.
Online Medical Reviewers:
Coleman, Ellen RD
Fiveash, Laura DrPH, MPH, RD
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.