I have been avoiding touching this topic because it’s such a sensitive one, but I feel like I have to because the question is it worth buying organic fruits and vegetables is one I get asked ALL THE TIME. Please note that as always, this is my own opinion as a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach. I will not address the environmental aspect of buying organic vs non organic, even though this is another important argument. If you’re interested in it, you can visit this FAO webpage.
Organic produce is sometimes double, or even triple the price of a conventionally-grown equivalent, so it’s no wonder people are reluctant to buy it. The reason it’s so expensive is because it costs a farmer much more to grow their crops without using pesticides (or only using pesticides permitted for use in organic farming) and applying conventional farming methods. They aren’t trying to make a huge profit, only to cover their costs and earn a living just like everyone else. Still, is it worth spending the money?
How do I know if a product is truly organic?
If you’re suspicious about whether or not “organic” is a thing or a hoax know this: In the EU, farmers, processors or traders must be checked by a control body or control authority before they can market their products as organic. You can find out more, including audit reports here.
The EU organic logo can only be used on products that have been certified as organic by an authorised control agency or body. This means that they have fulfilled strict conditions on how they must be produced, processed, transported and stored.
So in short yes, you can be sure that if a product has that logo, chances are high that it really is organic (however, I’m not sure what the controls are like for produce coming from non-EU countries).
Are organic fruits and vegetables really better for you?
Many people are reluctant to buy organic products because they don’t think they will be getting more benefits by consuming them. Unfortunately it’s difficult to rely on research for the answer to this question, as different studies have come to opposite conclusions: For example, a 2012 study by Stanford university showed that the nutritional values or organic fruits are nearly identical to those that are commercially produced (with pesticides), sparking a debate on whether or not there’s any point in buying organic. A more recent study that appeared in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that organic products are actually more nutritious. (It’s always worth checking who financed which study….)
But regardless, let’s look at the facts:
Frankly, it doesn’t sound illogical that nutritional values could be the same between organic and non-organic produce. An apple is an apple and broccoli is broccoli no matter how you grow it. However, what is definitely not the same is what you might be getting in addition to that commercially grown apple or broccoli that you’re eating. These contain pesticide residues that may affect the endocrine system, accumulate in the liver, and probably confusing the conversation your body needs to have to create balance and avoid symptoms and diseases. Our delicate microbiome may also be impacted by pesticide residues.
In addition, when authorities label things as “safe”, they cannot take into account all the indirect effects they can have on the body. Pesticides might not directly be responsible for a specific disease (which is what safety controls often look into) but they might be impacting our bodies’ function in indirect ways.
But aren’t dangerous chemicals banned in the EU?
I wish. It was only a few months ago that the EU banned one of the most-used pesticide over health and environmental fears. Who knows what else is currently circulating and will be banned in a few years? Unfortunately we often discover issues retrospectively. It's worth looking at this page, which shows how EFSA, the European Commission and Member States work together to ensure consumers in Europe are safe.
Do all non-organic products contain pesticides?
You might be surprised to hear this but NO! According to the European Food safety Authority (EFSA), more than 96% of samples analysed for last year’s annual report on pesticide residues in food were found to be within legal limits (though one could argue whether or not those “legal limits” are strict enough); but most importantly, around 51% were free of any quantifiable residues. The results are based on a European coordinated programme under which all countries should report a minimum number of samples to EFSA as well as National control programmes by each individual country.
So if you buy fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic, you are certainly not feeding yourself poison. The risk is low. And frankly, between an apple that’s not organic and a cookie or “healthy” cornflakes full of sugar, I would still go for the apple without thinking twice. You don’t have to buy 100% organic to limit your exposure to pesticides. A smaller percentage will do. Plus, not all fruits and vegetables are likely to have the same amount of pesticides.
Are some foods more offensive than others when it comes to pesticide residues?
Yes! Because of their nature, some fruits and vegetables are more likely to be contaminated than others. EFSA has an interactive map which shows which products were found to have pesticides and in which country. However, the easiest and most user-friendly way to get this information is to look at the US’s Environmental Working Group (EWG) “Dirty Dozen and “Clean Fifteen” lists, which rank the fruits and vegetables that are most and least contaminated with pesticide residue. These lists can tell you which foods are better bought organic and the results are very similar between the EU and the US. Here are the ones to watch out for in 2019:
Just by trying to buy these products organic, and you will already be exposing yourself to much less pesticide residues. Note that these are also the ones with the HUGE price difference between organic and non-organic. It makes sense – they are extremely difficult to produce without the use of pesticides.
On the other hand, you can more safely purchase the following without worrying about them being organic:
2. Sweet corn
4. Frozen sweet peas
15. Honeydew melons
In general, produce with a thin skin is more likely to contain more pesticides. The thinner the skin, the easier it is for pesticides to get into. They are also more prone to insects, worms, etc.
How can I remove pesticides from non-organic products?
The best thing you can do isn’t to put them in soapy water like many people think; rubbing them well with your hands or scrubbing if it has a tough skin is what you should strive for. Do this before storing them in your fridge. Note that this may not be practical for delicate produce, such as berries or mushrooms, because washing them too far ahead of eating them may speed spoilage.
If you want to take an extra step, consider submerging your produce in a solution of one teaspoon of baking soda and two cups of water for two minutes or more. Rinse in tap water again before eating.
Hopefully this has shed some light onto this complicated issue. Don’t forget to consume fruits and vegetables, even if you don’t have access/cannot afford to always buy organic. Follow the two lists above as much as possible, rub them well before eating them and you will benefit from all the wonderful properties they have to offer. It’s worth it!
This website is for information purposes only. By providing the information contained herein we are not diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any type of natural, integrative or conventional treatment regimen, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.