Kale recently made headlines for reasons other than its longstanding ”superfood” status. For the first time in a decade, it ranked in the top 12 of the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen,” or the fruits and vegetables the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found contains the highest amount of pesticides and often recommends be purchased organic. It’s important to keep in mind this organization’s methodology, data and lists are not peer-reviewed, so they should be taken with a grain of salt.
Here, a look at why pesticides aren’t as harmful as you might think, how nutrition plays a role and why it’s more important to eat colorful meals than worry about purchasing organic food:
WHY PESTICIDES AREN’T NECESSARILY HARMFUL
Lists like the dirty dozen are popular because we often associate pesticides with an increased risk of disease and negative health outcomes. However, it’s important to keep in mind most studies on the harmful effects of pesticides have focused on those who are occupationally exposed (like farm workers) and others who have experienced abnormally high exposures. This is much different than the smaller amounts of pesticide residue that might be found in food. In fact, the risk of developing cancer from pesticides consumed through food in the average lifetime is less than one in a million.
NUTRITION FOR ORGANIC VERSUS CONVENTIONAL FOOD
A 2012 review of hundreds of studies found a lack of evidence supporting the claims that organic produce is nutritionally superior when compared to its conventional counterparts. Similar results were found in animal products like pork and chicken. Health outcomes in individuals consuming organic foods compared to those consuming conventional foods did not differ significantly either, nor did safety outcomes. Ultimately, it’s a myth that organic foods are healthier.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CHOOSE ORGANIC?
Let’s focus on another important question first — do Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables? Not even close. In fact, less than 10% of the U.S. population consumes the recommended amount. That’s why I tell clients it’s more important to focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables than worrying about whether they’re organic or not. We know following a plant-based diet has been linked to better health and reduced risk of chronic disease. If you’re not getting enough fruits and veggies, try these simple strategies:
- Add greens, peppers and/or mushrooms to your scrambled eggs.
- Throw a handful of berries into your morning yogurt or oatmeal.
- Choose a veggie soup and add sliced cucumber, tomato, leafy greens and avocado to your lunch sandwich.
- Roast vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts to enjoy with chicken or fish.
- Use spinach, tomato, broccoli, peppers and onion as your pizza toppings.
- Keep fresh fruit at your desk for an easy mid-afternoon snack.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Since there’s no significant difference in nutrient content, nutrient absorption or health risk in choosing organic over conventional foods, you shouldn’t stress about buying organic in terms of nutrition. If you’re always worrying about what produce to buy it can lead to a negative, fearful type of thinking that takes away from healthy eating. Instead, focus on making each meal and snack as colorful as possible and purchase whatever whole foods you enjoy and can fit within your budget.