Organic or Not, Eating More Fruit and Vegetables Can Improve Health
Donald Hensrud, M.D., Endocrinology, Mayo Clinic
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is organically grown produce better for you than non-organic fruits and vegetables?
ANSWER: The answer to your question depends on what you mean by "better for you." Many people assume that "organic" automatically equals "good," particularly when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Whether or not that's true for you depends on the factors you're considering: nutrition, environmental impact, taste and cost, for example.
First a definition: The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce don't use conventional methods to fertilize or control weeds and insects. For example, rather than using chemical weed killers (herbicides), organic farmers may conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.
To help you identify foods that are organically grown, the
When deciding whether to purchase organic produce, one factor many people consider is nutritional content. The perception is often that organic fruits and vegetables are considerably more nutritious than non-organic. If you look at recent data on the health benefits of organically grown fruits and vegetables, there are a few studies that suggest that the nutrient content of organic produce may be slightly superior to non-organic, but the evidence isn't conclusive.
In addition, organic produce isn't as widely available as other produce. That means, depending on where you live, it may be shipped from farther away than non-organic produce and, in some cases, it may sit longer on the shelf before it's sold. During the lag time between harvest and consumption, certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, can degrade within produce, affecting its nutritional value.
Another reason people may buy organic produce involves pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from insects. When farmers spray pesticides, a residue can remain on the produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. Most experts agree, however, that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses very little health risk.
If you're concerned about pesticides on non-organic produce, you may want to peel your fruits and vegetables and trim the outer leaves of leafy vegetables in addition to washing them thoroughly. But, keep in mind that peeling fruits and vegetables may reduce the amount of nutrients and fiber you get from them.
These health considerations aren't the only reasons that may influence your decision to buy organic produce. For example, there's no question that organic farming protects the environment in ways that conventional farming does not. If that's important to you, organic may be the best choice.
Cost may be a factor, too. Organic produce often costs more than non-organic. Higher prices are due to more expensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields. Organic farmers use methods to control weeds and pests that are labor intensive and more expensive than herbicides or pesticides, and that can drive up cost.
As an alternative to simply buying "organic" or "non-organic," you may want to consider seeking out sources of produce close to where you live. Although buying local fruits and vegetables from smaller farms doesn't always mean you're buying organic, that is often the case. In addition, the closer to the source of your fruits and vegetables you are, the more likely they are to be fresh. And, freshness has a direct impact on nutritional value and taste. An added benefit is that buying locally supports your local economy.
Virtually everyone could improve their health by eating more vegetables and fruits, organic or not. There isn't much specific evidence we can point to that shows significant health benefits of organic produce. When you are deciding whether to buy organic products, multiple factors beyond just health considerations may influence your decision. I recommend that you make your choice based on the factors that are important to you. And, whatever you decide, eat your fruits and veggies.
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