Health, Nutrition

Is Organic Produce Healthier?

By Lauren Beth Cohen
Dietetic Intern

A lot of confidence is put in the word organic. When playing the word-association game, you might hear things like: health, nutrition, clean, natural, expensive, and safe. But is that always the case? Before we fully answer this question (spoiler alert: the short answer no), we should breakdown what “organic” actually means.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies and labels certain foods as organic if they are produced “using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.” Pesticides and antibiotics are used to extend shelf life in the grocery store, reduce plant spoilage and mutation, and prevent illness in livestock. They are GRAS, or Generally Recognized As Safe to consume by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

So, should you eat it? Well, the choice is yours.

Not a lot is known about the how these pesticides and antibiotics affect the human body. What we do know is that organic can be a great option, but is not always essential.

In an attempt to help you save some cash and become a more savvy shopper, let’s introduce you to the “dirty dozen.” These foods, tested by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), show a higher amount of pesticides than average and, if given the option, should be purchased organic. They include: apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach/kale/collard greens, sweet bell & hot peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.

Next time you head to the grocery store, go in armed with some of these helpful tips:

  • Buy organic for the “Dirty Dozen” and conventional for the “Clean Fifteen,” which includes; avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
  • Prioritize buying local over organic. Often times, local farmers are producing products in an organic fashion but can’t afford the accreditation. Support your local farms!
  • Check the country of origin. The United States only imports certified organic foods from Canada, EU, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Korea, and Switzerland. Any other country with “organic” on the label may be a trick to get you to spend more!
  • Milk and seafood do not need to be purchased organic.
  • Remember: A cookie is a cookie. Even if it’s 100% natural and organic – it doesn’t make it a magically healthy cookie.
(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services)

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