Is Organic Produce Worth the Price?
As registered dietitians, we always get asked about whether organic fruits and veggies are really worth the extra money. We completely understand why this is such a popular question, as we’ve personally experienced shell shock after having to pay nearly $5 for a single organic bell pepper (versus less than$1 for a non-organic one). Should you save your cash and go with conventionally grown produce? After all, if you pass on the organic produce, you’ll have more money to spend on the cute Lululemon outfit you’ve been eyeing.
The truth is sometimes going organic is worth the hefty price tag and sometimes it’s not. One of the big reasons people purchase organic produce is to limit their exposure to pesticides, which are used to protect the plant and kill the pests that eat it. Unfortunately, many pesticides also pose health risks to humans and have been linked to a variety of issues,such as hormone disruption, skin, eye, and lung irritations,and cancer. So obviously, lowering the risk of your pesticide exposure is ideal.
There are two questions that you should ask yourself to determine if you should buy organic. First: “Does this fruit or veggie contain a lot of pesticides?” You'll find your answer in the Environmental Working Group's 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which ranks the most highly and least highly contaminated produce. Keep in mind that the produce was washed before being tested for pesticide residues, so even if you scrub these items as hard as you can, it’s not going to change this list. If you can afford to buy the entire Dirty Dozen in the organic variety, go ahead. Otherwise, ask yourself the second question: “How often am I eating this produce?” If you’re eating it only occasionally, save yourself money and buy conventional. For example, if you just have celery (#4 on the Dirty Dozen List) as a sidekick to your monthly splurge on buffalo wings, there’s no need to worry about pesticides. On the other hand, if you chow down on red peppers (#2 on the Dirty list) like we do, you should invest in the organic variety. Or if you’re blueberry obsessed like many of our clients who eat blueberries with every meal, it’s a good time to go for the organic variety, since this fruit is the third highest in chemical residues.
Luckily there are some foods you don’t need to worry about at all. For example, we eat a ton of red cabbage (we like to think it’s because we have Hungarian ancestors so our taste buds naturally crave it). Cabbage, along with 14 other produce items, made the EWG’s Clean 15 List, (those lowest in pesticides). So if you’re a cabbage- lover like we are, don’t feel obligated to buy the organic variety. We certainly don’t.
That being said, from the thousands of scientific studies we have read, we can confidently tell you that one of the best things that you can do for yourself is to eat more produce, organic or not. Bottom line: f you want to lower your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, eat more fruits and vegetables. See you at the salad bar!
—Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse “Lyssie” Lakatos—otherwise known as the Nutrition Twins—are registered dieticians, certified personal trainers and authors of Fire Up Your Metabolism: 9 Proven Principles for Burning Fat and Losing Weight Forever. They will be blogging about nutrition and weight loss for Fitbie every week.
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