Is sustainably grown food really better for you than conventional product? We check in with two experts.
As told to Jessica Press
Expert: Carolyn Dimitri, PhD, applied economist and associate professor of food studies at New York University
“There’s no question that if you can afford to buy organic, you should. According to a 2010 report in the journal Alternative Medicine Review that considered the findings of dozens of studies, organic produce has substantially higher amounts of vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus than nonorganic versions of the same foods — and it’s significantly lower in nitrates and pesticide residues. The report also concluded that, except for wheat, oats and wine, organic foods typically have higher levels of important antioxidants. Of course, you’re not going to be healthier today by choosing an organic apple over a conventional one. But if you consider the cumulative effect of these choices over a lifetime, the benefits of eating organically could outweigh the costs. I believe it’s better to be safe than wait for the scientific community to decide whether organic foods are better for your health than conventional ones. That’s why I choose organic for myself — and, to the extent that it was possible, raised my family on organic foods, too.”
Expert: Carl K. Winter, PhD, food toxicologist in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis
“It’s true that in a few cases, organic fruits and vegetables have been able to yield higher levels of certain nutrients, but there’s no data proving that these differences have any real impact on health. In order to know that, we’d have to compare people who ate a conventional diet with people who ate an organic diet for decades. Until that happens, there’s not enough compelling evidence to suggest that organic foods are healthier. While there are fewer pesticide residues in organically grown products, our exposure to these chemicals from conventional foods is most likely too low to have a detrimental effect. And if you limit the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat because you’re concerned about pesticides, you’re doing yourself much more harm than good. We know that a diet rich in produce can reduce the risk of diseases like cancer. I’m not opposed to organic; it’s great for people to have choices — in quality, price and taste — but consumers shouldn’t feel guilty if they choose conventionally produced foods that are still perfectly healthy.”
The Last Word
The more produce you eat — organic or not — the healthier you’ll be, so strive for two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables daily. Buying organic may pay off in the long run, but there’s no proof that you’re harming your health if you can’t afford it.