Is Organic Food Necessary for Good Health?

“Eat clean” is a popular mantra among health-conscious people. The idea 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?

In the last few years, I’ve been eating more and more organic produce, because it seems a substance meant to kill a pest, even if that pest is a tiny insect or weed, cannot be good for the human body!

Those who disagree that eating organic is important might say that since humans are hundreds or thousands of times larger than the organisms that pesticides are designed to destroy, we are safe from their poisonous effects.

I’m sure that’s true when it comes to 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 seen doesn’t give a clear answer, but it does seem to confirm that the vast majority of us have 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 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 contamination.

In addition, chemicals are regulated “one at a time,” so even if government safety standards were accurate for each individual pesticide, there is no regulation of what scientists refer 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 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 the “tragic timing” part.

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 showing there was no difference in nutritional value between organically grown and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Other studies suggest organic produce is more nutrient dense. But the more important 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 broccoli, but if one smokes a cigarette while eating the broccoli, the cigarette is doing harm regardless of how healthy the broccoli is.

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 it’s definitely in best to keep spending 10 – 40 percent more money on organic produce than I’d spend for conventional foods, I checked in with my gut instead.

It makes sense to me to keep buying organic as much as possible. Why not avoid chemical cocktails on my healthy greens and berries if I can? It’s also my experience that most organic foods (especially fruits) taste better!

If money was not an issue, all the food I eat would be organic. But since I’m not in a position to spend money without limits, I take what I believe is a sensible middle ground and follow the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen guidelines.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for credible research on whether and to what extent 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 www.wellbeingwriter.net.

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