For many, the journey to healthy eating often begins by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. This often causes one to consider whether it’s better to eat organic produce. Often, people complain that they can’t afford to eat organic produce. One solution is to plant a small garden and grow the food yourself which immediately provides you two obvious benefits. The first is that you get to eat food much closer to harvest than is possible with anything you buy at a store. I have literally eaten food from my garden within 10 minutes of harvesting. This means that I am getting to ingest more of the nutrients present in the food. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago, most produce loses 30% of it’s nutrients within 3 days of harvest. This makes one wonder about the nutritional content of those year old apples that one is buying at the grocery store.
The second benefit of growing food yourself is that you know exactly what was used to treat the soil and to keep away bugs. You don’t always know what’s on produce that you buy in the store. This also includes organic produce. A study published in 2008 found that organic produce had a significantly higher risk of fecal contamination when compared to non-organic produce. The organic produce from Minnesota farms had 9.7% contamination with generic e-coli compared to 1.6% of conventionally raised produce. The Canadian Food Inspector Agency reported that pesticide residue was found on nearly 50% of all organic produce in Canada over a two year period. This may be the result of contamination of soil or water. It may also be the result of pesticide drift from non-organic farms that neighbor the organic farms. Some of this contamination might also occur due to the organic produce being in contact with non organic produce after harvest. Even with the pesticide contamination, organic produce scored better than samples of non-organic produce which were found to have pesticide reside of 78.4%. The samples of organic grapes that were tested in the same study were found to have pesticide contamination at 77%.
Obviously, growing a garden is one solution, but it’s not for the faint of heart. I have seen many gardeners surrender after their gardens were reduced to a wasteland by bugs, rabbits, or birds. Often, growing a garden requires a learning curve that many people don’t have the stamina to undertake. Unlike our agrarian ancestors, we have the option of surrendering to the local fauna and running to the store. They needed the garden to succeed in order to survive. We don’t, and when you’re doing battle with a crafty ground squirrel, it’s often easier to just surrender and head to the store.
This brings us back to our original question. When you arrive at the store, or farmer’s market, should you buy organic produce? Is it really what’s best for you? If you want to limit your exposure to pesticides and make an environmentally sound choice, organic produce may be the way to go, but remember that one head of lettuce or a bunch of carrots for the entire week is inadequate to meet your nutritional needs. Your body needs variety. If you can’t afford to buy enough organic produce to get your 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, then you might be better off buying non-organic produce. Our bodies function better and are more resistant to disease when we eat more fruits and vegetables.
I realize that this isn’t a definitive answer and will undoubtedly result in some strong opinions, but I believe that it is far more important to be eating fruits and vegetables than to eat only organic. Not everyone has the extra income to afford organic. Regardless of whether you choose to eat organic produce or not, all produce should be washed before eating it. Even organic produce has been found to be contaminated, resulting in cases of foodborne illness.
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