We often field questions from patients regarding which is better, organic or conventional produce, especially this time of year when people are visiting farmers’ markets and pick-your-own farms, growing their own gardens, and generally enjoying the abundance of different fruits and vegetables that are in season.
Would you rather pay less for your produce now and risk discovering later that conventional food is actually harmful, or pay more now for organic and risk finding out later that conventional would have been totally safe all along?
In other words, whether you choose to buy conventional or organic, you are taking a gamble either way. The decision is personal and based on your own concerns and priorities.
The middle ground between the poles is also a perfectly valid option. For those looking to pick their spots, the Environmental Working Group is a helpful resource. They publish a guide to help shoppers determine which fruits and vegetables they consider most important to buy organic based on pesticide contamination.
When it comes to organic vs. conventional produce, there really is no one right answer for everybody. As long as you are eating fruits and vegetables, you are making the right choice.
While in general I try to buy mostly organic fruits and vegetables, I am not obsessive about it. Yes, there are good reasons to buy organic (no pesticides, chemicals, hormones or genetically modified organisms (GMOs)), but there are a lot of myths out there about why organic foods are superior to conventional foods.
Although many people believe that organic produce is more nutritious than conventional, numerous studies have shown that there often is no difference in nutrient content between the two. What really seems to matter is how long the produce sits on the shelf, as more nutrients are lost when produce sits out for longer periods of time.
While it is true that organic produce is grown without pesticides or chemicals, it is not necessarily better for the environment than conventional produce, as conventional farming is more productive and efficient than organic farming. According to the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, if we were to switch all conventional farming to organic, we would need to cut down 10 million square miles of forest.
Finally, just because organic produce is chemical free does not mean you don’t have to be careful about washing it. It is still susceptible to bacteria.
So, while I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing organic more often (It’s good to reduce our exposure to chemicals and pesticides.), it is important to know that organic is not inherently better than conventional.