I certainly understand the challenge Americans face when it comes to eating organic. For starters eating organic can be more costly than conventionally grown food. It also may not be as easily accessible for some. However, I believe the health benefits of eating organic far out weigh the monetary costs. It is critical to remember that organic is not something new. According to Michael Pollan, the introduction to the American diet of heavily processed convenience foods is a relatively recent development, whereas, fresh whole foods grown without pesticides are not. Our grandparents ate mostly organic without calling it organic. They just called it food.
The biggest benefit of eating organic is reducing pesticide exposure. Pesticides are chemicals used to kill anything unsavory that wants to destroy your food while it’s growing (6). According to the EPA, it is estimated that an astronomical 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year to repel these “pests”. Pesticides, which are sprayed on most conventional produce, have been linked to a number of health concerns, from cancer to abnormal brain and nervous system development (4). Pesticide exposure has also been linked to adverse effects on brain development in children and may contribute to a “silent pandemic” of developmental neurotoxicity (3). Moreover, a report published in Endocrine Reviews noted that long-term exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as those found in many commonly used pesticides, had adverse effects on overall human health, including links to obesity, cancer, and reproductive issues.
On another note, (which I won't get into too much here) just because pesticides are used on plants doesn’t mean they stay only on plants. Pesticides are commonly applied through mechanical sprayers and these chemical particles travel via the air, get absorbed into soil, and run into our water, potentially causing environmental havoc (6). I would consider this yet another reason to avoid pesticides whenever possible.
To limit pesticide exposure, you should aim to choose organic foods. A recent study published February 5th, has confirmed that “a good way to eat fewer pesticides is to choose organically grown fruits and veggies whenever possible. The analysis found that the more people ate organic produce instead of non-organic, the less likely they were to have a common type of pesticide in their bodies. The study also found that people who ate more organic tended to eat more fresh produce overall."(1) Finally, another new study suggests that organic foods contain higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown versions. It was found that concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were substantially higher in organic food (2).
While everyone (including myself) cannot buy organic food 100% of the time, a great tool to navigate foods containing the highest amount of pesticides is the Environmental Working Group’s Environmental Working Group's annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. The agency has just published the 2015 annual “Dirty Dozen” and "Clean Fifteen" list, a list determined from sampling pesticide residue from 48 popular fruits and vegetables. In the most recent report, it was determined that the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce! And if that is not scary enough, 23 percent of baby food applesauce samples contained acetamiprid, "a neonicotinoid pesticide that European regulators singled out for additional toxicity testing because it might disrupt the developing nervous system" Yikes, I would definitely steer clear from feeding a developing child this stuff.
So I urge you to use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen when shopping for produce. These lists can be downloaded to your phone and come in handy to determine which foods are okay to consume nonorganic. And finally I leave you with a little food for thought; I view eating organic as the upfront cost. The benefits, as explained here are priceless. As we know illness and healthcare can be quite expensive (much more than that organic apple). When you purchase organic you are investing in the health bank, wouldn’t you think?
Kustin, Mary Ellen. Another Reason To Eat Organic. (February 5, 2014.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/02/another-reason-eat-organic
Barański, M., Średnicka-Tober, D., Volakakis, N., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Stewart, G. B., … Leifert, C. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, null(05), 794–811. doi:10.1017/S0007114514001366
Harari, R., Julvez, J., Murata, K., Barr, D., Bellinger, D. C., Debes, F., & Grandjean, P. (2010). Neurobehavioral Deficits and Increased Blood Pressure in School-Age Children Prenatally Exposed to Pesticides.Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(6), 890–896. doi:10.1289/ehp.0901582
Jin, J., Yu, M., Hu, C., Ye, L., Xie, L., Jin, J., … Tong, H. (2014). Pesticide Exposure as a Risk Factor for Myelodysplastic Syndromes: A Meta-Analysis Based on 1,942 Cases and 5,359 Controls.PLoS ONE, 9(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110850
London, L., Beseler, C., Bouchard, M. F., Bellinger, D. C., Colosio, C., Grandjean, P., … Stallones, L. (2012). Neurobehavioural and neurodevelopmental effects of pesticide exposures.Neurotoxicology, 33(4), 887–896. doi:10.1016/j.neuro.2012.01.004
Sacks, Stefanie. (2014). What The Fork Are You Eating? New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Smith-Spangler, C., Brandeau, M. L., Hunter, G. E., Bavinger, J. C., Pearson, M., Eschbach, P. J., … Bravata, D. M. (2012). Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine, 157(5), 348–366. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
US EPA, O. of P. P. (n.d.). 2006-2007 Pesticide Market Estimates: Usage | Pesticides | US EPA. Retrieved February 13, 2015, fromhttp://www.epa.gov/opp00001/pestsales/07pestsales/usage2007.htm
Vandenberg, L. N., Colborn, T., Hayes, T. B., Heindel, J. J., Jacobs, D. R., Lee, D.-H., … Myers, J. P. (2012). Hormones and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: Low-Dose Effects and Nonmonotonic Dose Responses.Endocrine Reviews, 33(3), 378–455. doi:10.1210/er.2011-1050