Should you buy organic?

There's been a long standing debate on the pros and cons of buying organic vs. conventional fruits and vegetables. Nutritionally, research has shown marginal difference between the two. The area of larger concern is pesticides. Nearly 70% of the produce sold in the U.S contains pesticide residues. The Environmental Working Group released it's annual "Dirty Dozen" list. If you aren't familiar with this list, it includes the top twelve fruits and veggies found to have the highest amounts of pesticide residue when grown conventionally versus organically.

The 2019 Dirty Dozen Foods:

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale

  4. Nectarines

  5. Apples

  6. Grapes

  7. Peaches

  8. Cherries

  9. Pears

  10. Tomatoes

  11. Celery

  12. Potatoes

For the first time in a decade, kale made the top 3 for obvious reasons - kale is a hot health trend right now. The EWG found that 60% of the samples tested positive for an herbicide called DCPA, for which the Environmental Protection Agency has found suggestive evidence that it could cause cancer. The organization has listed the herbicide as a possible carcinogen based on a two-year study that linked DCPA to thyroid and liver tumors in rats (not humans). On the other hand, studies have suggested that cruciferous vegetables like kale can protect against certain types of cancer.

As a Dietitian, I pride myself on the fact that I focus on providing evidence-based recommendations, but I am also aware of the limitations of research. A few things to consider when it comes to research on pesticides and harmful health effects:

  • Outcomes found in animals are not always translatable to humans (as with any research).

  • Short-term outcomes are very different from long-term outcomes. Damage to a cell in the body doesn't happen overnight. It may take years to see the harmful effects of an exposure.

  • Genetic differences may have a great effect on toxicity. Some individuals are deficient in certain enzymes that are meant to break down certain chemicals.

  • Determining a “safe” level of exposure to a single pesticide may underestimate the real health effects, disregarding the chronic exposure to multiple chemical substances.

What I've always found fascinating is that certain countries like Europe have withdrawn the use of certain pesticides and artificial colors/flavorings because of uncertainty of the effect of prolonged exposure in humans. No one to date can say for certain that there are long-term negative effects of pesticide exposure.

What can you do? It's true that organic fruits and vegetables contain less pesticides than conventional, but still pesticides nonetheless. Buy organic when it comes to the dirty dozen and be sure to wash all the rest, using baking soda for the best results. Baking soda is the secret ingredient that has been shown to effectively remove pesticides. Throw a teaspoon of baking soda into a big bowl with your fruit and veggies to soak for 10-12 minutes.

If you are still concerned about pesticides, here is this year’s list of produce that generally contain lower amounts of pesticides.

The 2019 Clean Fifteen Foods:

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapple

  4. Frozen sweet peas

  5. Onions

  6. Papayas

  7. Eggplants

  8. Asparagus

  9. Kiwis

  10. Cabbage

  11. Cauliflower

  12. Cantaloupe

  13. Broccoli

  14. Mushrooms

  15. Honeydew Melons

One thing that research can agree on is the fact that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is essential for good health. And that is certainly a message I can get behind!

References:

1) Pirsaheb M, Limoee M, Namdari F, Khamutian R. Organochlorine pesticides residue in breast milk: a systematic review. Med J Islam Repub Iran (2015) 29:228

2) https://www.intechopen.com/books/pesticides-in-the-modern-world-effects-of-pesticides-exposure/pesticide-and-human-health

3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304383508003285

4) https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

5) http://npic.orst.edu/chemicals_evaluated.pdf