When to go Organic

When to go Organic

People often ask whether buying organic is really healthier, and the answer is yes. Does it make a real difference to one’s health? Very much so. Eating organic protects you from potentially harmful chemicals such as pesticides and gives you more nutrient dense food. For instance, organic tomato ketchup has twice the amounts of antioxidants, but is not twice the price. Organic lettuce has at least 4 times the amount of magnesium and calcium than conventional lettuce and a whopping 500 times the amount of iron.

However, whilst a lot of patients know organic is better for them, they feel the expense of organic eating outweighs the health benefits. However, eating organic is cost effective (if the effect you want is more nutritional intake for your pound and less expenditure on your health!).

Prof. Leifert and colleagues say their findings suggest that by switching to organically grown crop foods, and foods made from them, people would consume additional antioxidants equivalent to eating between one and two extra portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

If you just want calories then it is not cost effective, but most of us get enough calories. But I concede, it is true, usually organic foods are more expensive to buy…

Good News!

Luckily, not all non-organic foods get treated the same way. So when can we get away with not going organic? Below are three simple rules to apply when out shopping and then below that a list of foods that don’t matter so much (the clean fifteen) and the dirty dozen that do.

This post is meant as a quick reference, it is beyond it’s scope to discuss the ethics, individual circumstances and environmental aspects. In short, I am just trying to list when not going organic and saving money is not going to make a big difference to your toxin intake.

Short on time? For a less indepth read click here

Fruit and Veg

1. When the skin is thin. Fruits and vegetables with a thin skin that is difficult to remove or that you typically eat should definitely be organic. They have high levels of pesticides even after washing. Produce with thicker skins has a better barrier to pesticides, and when you throw the peel in the trash, the chemicals go with it. But be sure to give all fruits and veggies a good scrub down before eating or peeling them, because cutting them can bring any chemicals on the skin into the flesh.

Go Organic: Apples, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes, pears, nectarines, peppers, celery, potatoes, and carrots

Save Your Cash: Avocados, eggplants, pineapples, bananas, corn, kiwi, mangoes, papaya, sweet peas, oranges, grapefruit, and squash

2. Go green with leafy greens. Can you imagine scrubbing every leaf of a head of romaine lettuce? It’s too difficult with leafy greens to make sure you remove all of the chemicals, and greens are particularly susceptible to pests, so they are often grown with high levels of pesticides. Fortunately, other vegetables, such as broccoli, either don’t retain pesticides very well or don’t need a lot to begin with, so it’s okay to go with conventionally grown varieties.

Go Organic: All lettuces and greens such as kale, collards, mustard, swiss chard, and spinach

Save Your Cash: Broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, cauliflower, eggplant, melons, and sweet potatoes

Meat and Fish

3. Milk and Beef “Research suggests a strong connection between some of the hormones given to cattle and cancer in humans, particularly breast cancer,” says Samuel Epstein, MD, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. Specifically, the concern is that the estrogen-like agents used on cattle could increase your cancer risk, adds Ted Schettler, MD, science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network. Although in the UK, regulation is far better and much of the hormones and antibiotics used in conventional milk production are washed out long before we drink it, the process isn’t perfect and some make it through. Plus, there is evidence that organic milk has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which help keep our inflammation in check and our brains and hearts healthy.

But be wary when you see fish touted as organic. Fish usually grow in the ocean, where it’s impossible to know what (if any) pesticides they’ve encountered, so the USDA has no guidelines for certifying organic seafood.

Go Organic: Beef, Milk, yogurt, and cheese

Save Your Cash: Fish and other seafood

EWG's 2015 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

Highlights of Dirty Dozen™ 2015

EWG singles out produce with the highest pesticide loads for its Dirty Dozen™ list. This year, it is comprised of apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.

Each of these foods tested positive a number of different pesticide residues and showed higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce items.

Key findings:
◦99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
◦The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
◦A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
◦Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

The Clean Fifteen™

EWG’s Clean Fifteen™ list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residues consists of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides on them.

Key findings:
◦Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
◦Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
◦No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen™ tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
◦Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen™ vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

See the full list.

Dirty Dozen PLUS™

For the third year, we have expanded the Dirty Dozen™ with a Plus category to highlight two types of food that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.

About the Author

Robin is the editor of theactivehealthclinic.com and is the principle Chiropractor of Active Health Chiropractic and Physiotherapy in Bath. Visit Robin’s team page to learn more.

Comments (2)

  1. Susanna Kendall :

    What is EWG? Did I miss the key to this. Also, as the lists of food show signs of being American, it would be interesting to know how much the same chemicals are used. Obviously different regulators, as you said re dairy produce, and maybe different pests? I wonder how much differences are due to regulations – their being followed? – to the pests encountered – to crazy “perfection” demanded by retailers- or to the ability of the fruit or veg to not absorb the chemicals.
    You mention something as imported – where from might be relevant, and maybe it isn’t imported to the UK.

    But this is all very interesting stuff. Thanks.

  2. Robin Marshall :

    Hi Susanna,

    Thanks for your questions:

    What is EWG?
    -The Environmental Working Group. I linked the title in blue to their website, sorry if this wasn’t clear. Have a look here for more about what the EWG do http://www.ewg.org/about-us

    Yes is would be very interesting indeed to see where the UK differred in regulation. The very complexities of understanding the exact differences showcases the need for the actual message I was trying to get across, which was the principles of how to apply a few simple rules to navigate where you could save money without significantly increasing your exposure to toxins. For instance, if its thick skinned and you are not going to eat the skin, then dont worry as much regarding pesticide content as less is going to get through. I tried to state at the begining that this wasn’t a kind of meta analysis of cost effectiveness where health was a measure of effectiveness as it was too complex to define what effectiveness was regards health so my sole intention was to work on what was bad and what wasn’t so bad in terms of toxin exposure in order to save money. Yes, EWG is concerned primarily with America. If you are hunting for a UK equivalent then have a look at the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) it is the only UK charity focused on tackling the problems caused by pesticides and promoting safe and sustainable alternatives to pesticides in agriculture, urban areas, homes and gardens. But regretably its a lot less presentable to the public than a “clean 15” and “dirty dozen”.

    It is way beyond the scope of a news email, to a wide audience, to encompass all the minor variables that you quite rightly point out. I thought I made it too technical and too robustly backed up as it was for most people to be bothered to read to the end! So apologies for any broad ranging generalisations.

    I imagine the trend of how crops are treated is pretty similar but my heart hopes things might not be quite as bad as America, but then again perhaps with your point about different pests and therefore potentially different pesticides with different negative effects, different values of presentation due to european rules etc, it may well be the case our wetter climate may require we put more pesticide in than they do! – I don’t know. However, if somethings deleterious to one’s health, then I always maintain, look for the biological significance of the trend observed rather than try and say ‘well its a little less bad than this makes out” as that does kind of miss the point I was trying to convey. I will have to do better with the clarity of presentation next time clearly 🙂 Hopefully some boffin will produce a more accurate locally targeted document for us all here in the UK and publish it, but briefly looking into it I imagine it may have to be his thesis to a PHD or something as its a pretty daunting task!

    Thanks so much for commenting and reading the whole thing, look forward to your views on the next one!

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