Do You Really Need to Eat Organic?

April 27, 2016 1:49 PM

When it comes to fresh produce, should you buy organic? Studies aren’t conclusive. Here’s how to weigh the options.

Organic or not?

It’s a question that many people — from those fighting cancer to folks simply looking to eat right or prevent disease — might ask themselves in the grocery aisle.

An answer, however, isn’t definite.

Both types of food have key health benefits, though making the decision (perhaps driven by cost and availability) can leave consumers at an impasse.  

Consider the following, then, when shopping for organic and conventional foods — and, in choosing either option, what you can do to maximize the health benefits of your diet.

Are organic foods better for me?

There have been no direct studies on humans to show that organic foods can prevent cancer or other diseases more effectively than conventionally grown foods.

So far, there is also no consistent evidence that organic food is any more nutritious (higher in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients).

Do only organic fruits and vegetables reduce my cancer risk?

No. What’s important, however, is to eat fruits, vegetables and other plant foods regardless of whether they are grown conventionally or organically.

Aim for at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Plant foods offer vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals with real cancer-fighting abilities. Those plus whole grains should form the central part of a person’s diet.

Also, replacing higher-calorie foods with healthful plant foods can help with weight control — which, as a result, can help protect against some cancers.

Are the terms “organic” and “natural” the same?

Natural does not mean organic.

Natural applies broadly to foods free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and ingredients that do not occur naturally in the foods. Meat and poultry must be minimally processed in a method that does not fundamentally change the raw product.

Organic refers not only to the food itself but also to how it was produced. Organic foods are crops and livestock raised at organic farms without synthetic chemicals, hormones, antibiotic agents, genetic engineering or irradiation.

How can I minimize exposure to fertilizers and pesticides in non-organic foods?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that all fresh produce be thoroughly rinsed under running water (rather than soaking or dunking). This removes most surface residue along with dirt and any bacteria.

Discard the outer layers of leafy vegetables. Peeling fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, potatoes and carrots will help to remove the surface residue.

Eat a colorful variety of fresh produce to ensure a better mix of nutrients and reduce potential exposure to a single pesticide.