Is Organic Food Necessary for Good Health?

broccoli“Eat clean” is a mantra often heard among health-conscious people these days. The idea, as I see it, is to eat foods that are whole (not processed), organic, and free of artificial ingredients. I’ve been thinking specifically about the importance of eating organic when it comes to choosing produce. I wonder, is it really necessary to this? In the last few years, I’ve been eating more and more organic produce because, it seems to me that if a substance is meant to kill a “pest,” even if that pest is a tiny insect or weed, the substance cannot be good for the human body!

Those who disagree with the notion that eating organic is important to health might say that since hundreds of times larger than the organisms that pesticides are designed to destroy, we are safe from their poisonous effects. Perhaps this is true when considering the single dose that kills a pest, but what happens when small amounts of pesticides accumulate in our bodies over time? Most of the research I’ve read does not give a clear answer, but it does seem to confirm that the vast majority of us have these pesticides in our bodies, mostly from the food we eat.

Doesn’t the government protect us?

Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration are supposed to regulate the types and amounts of pesticides that can be used on the foods we eat. It would be nice to believe that these agencies have our best interests in mind, but even if they do, according to Pesticide Action Network (PAN), the government is simply not equipped with the right tools to protect us from pesticide contamination1. In addition, chemicals are regulated “one at a time,” so even if government safety standards were accurate for each individual pesticide, there is absolutely no regulation of what is referred to as “combined, cumulative and tragically timed” effects.

What does “combined, cumulative and tragically timed” mean with respect to pesticides in food?

According to research reported in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2005, it means that:

  • Most conventionally grown food crops contain residues of a cocktail of chemicals. The use of each individual pesticide may be within the guidelines of government regulations, but there are no rules about how many different chemicals can be combined to treat a single crop.
  • There is no real way to measure the cumulative effects of pesticide residues over time – that is, after months and years of consuming these chemicals in addition to all of the other pollutants to which we are exposed every day.
  • Unborn babies are especially vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure. This is “tragic timing.”

Does research support the idea that pesticide residues in foods are harmful?

This is a question I’m still trying to answer. As you can imagine, there seems to be evidence on both sides of this issue, and I just don’t know which side to believe. A short while ago, the news ran reports of a study that showed that there was no difference in nutritional value between organically grown and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. This may be true (other studies suggest that organic produce is more nutrient dense), but it isn’t really the important part of the issue. The real question is do the pesticides do harm? Think of it this way. Two people can each eat a bowl of broccoli and receive all of the nutritional benefits of doing so, but if one smokes a cigarette while eating the broccoli, the cigarette is doing harm regardless of how healthy the broccoli may be. The question, then, is does it matter if you get your nutrients with or without a dose of pesticides?

Why I choose organic produce as often as possible

Since I couldn’t find the research I was looking for to convince me that’s it is definitely in my best interest to continue to spend 10-40% more on organic produce than I’d spend for conventional varieties of the same foods, I checked in with my “gut feeling” instead. My gut told me to keep buying organic as much as possible. To me, it seems like common sense to avoid chemical cocktails on my healthy greens and berries. It’s also my experience that most organic foods (especially fruits)
taste better!

If money was not an issue, all of the food I eat would be organic. But since I’m not in a position to spend without thought just yet, I’ve chosen what seems to me like a sensible middle ground. When choosing whether to buy organic or conventional, I avoid the “dirty dozen” (the list of fruit and vegetables found to have the highest levels of pesticide residue) and also tend to stick to organic versions of the produce I eat almost every day. In the meantime, I intend to continue to seek out credible research on the matter until I know for sure whether organic foods are better for my health. If you have any thoughts (or research) on this issue, I’d love to hear from you!

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Maria Kuzmiak, M.A. is a health and well-being writer with a background in nutrition, psychology and education and a passion for yoga. She has written hundreds of articles, blogs and newsletters for clients in health-related fields, particularly those specializing in yoga, natural medicine, nutrition, and spiritual health and healing. Maria has also worked as a nutritionist, teacher and technical editor. Learn more about her writing at

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