It’s the time of the week when you have to go to the store and do your grocery shopping. With the list of necessary items in your hand, you enter the store and start looking for the produce you need. Then you come to the fruit and vegetable section. You stand in front of different varieties of potatoes, and to make the decision even more difficult, some of them are labeled as organic others as conventional.
So you start wondering what is the difference between anyways? Except for the price of course. Are there differences in their nutritional quality? Or their taste? Does it really worth spending the extra dollars to buy the organic ones?
I understand how it feels, because a few years ago I was in your shoes. Confused and not knowing which one to choose, is it better to buy the one over the other, mostly because the lack of knowledge I had about the differences between them and the standards required for some product to be labeled as organic versus others as conventional. So, I did my research, and here I’ll share with you what I’ve learned over the past 5 years, hopefully to provide you with enough information to help you decide which produce to buy next time you go grocery shopping.
What is the difference between ORGANIC and CONVENTIONAL?
The difference between organic and conventional produce lays in the way they are grown.
- are fertilized with manure and compost;
- the weed management is done with crop rotation, hand weeding and mulches;
- The pest control is done with setting traps and crop rotation methods;
- And they are regulated and certified organic – US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards, regulating how such foods are grown, handled and processed (the code label of these produce starts with the number 9);
- Last a few days.
On the other hand, conventional produce:
- Are fertilized with synthetic fertilizers;
- The weed management is done by using chemical herbicides;
- Pest control is done with using pesticide sprays;
- And they are not regulated and certified organic (the code label starts with 4);
- In livestock, farmers use antibiotics and growth hormones to improve the growth and well-being of the animals;
- Lasts longer than organic produce.
How harmful are the pesticides?
Although pesticides are made to kill pests, they can also be dangerous for people, especially if one is exposed to high level of pesticides. ¹ ² These negative effects can include damage imposed on the nervous system, skin or eye irritation, and some are thought to be carcinogens.¹
Not only these pesticides are harmful for human, they also pose threat to soil microorganism, insects, plants, and birds.
Therefore, if lowering the risk of getting health issues, and protecting the planet earth and the environment you live in, then eating organic foods will probably be the better choice for you.
How to decrease the amount of pesticide on the conventional produce?
If you have no other choice than buying conventional fruits and vegetables, here are two ways you can decrease the amount of pesticides they contain:
- Make a homemade cleaning solution using water and adding lemon juice, vinegar or baking soda. Let the fruits or vegetables sit in the solution for 5 minutes, wash them in it, and then rinse them with cold water. You can also use a scrubber, depending on the produce. This method is quite effective in removing about 80% of the harmful pesticides, bacteria and dust found on the surface of the produce. You can do the same for the organic foods as well.
- The second method is by removing the peel. Although by doing so you can remove more of the pesticides, you are also removing significant amount of fiber found in the peel. Taking this into consideration, my recommendation is keeping the peel, and just washing your fruits and veggies.
Some conventional foods are lower in pesticides than others!
Considering that some produce is more susceptible to absorbing the pesticides through their skin than others, the Environmental Working Group has made two lists of conventional foods, naming them as the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.
The Dirty Dozen contains 12 fruits and vegetables which contain the highest level of pesticides because of their thinner skins. Therefore, it is recommended to buy these organic if possible.
- Leafy greens;
The Clean Fifteen is a list of fruits and vegetables which contain less pesticides because of their thick skin, and can be purchased conventional.
- Broccoli & Cauliflower;
Is it worth spending extra dollars for buying organic produce?
Systematic study conducted in 2012 by Stanford University researchers concluded that there is no significant evidence that organic food is more nutritional than conventional foods. However, they also concluded that consumption of organic foods may reduce the exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which as we mentioned before can impose potential health risks, not only to us as consumers, but also to the farmers who are directly exposed to them, and the environment as well.
Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 concludes that organic crops have higher concentration of antioxidants, lower concentration of the toxic metal cadmium, and lower incidence of pesticide residues that the non-organic comparators.
Hopefully the information above will help you make an educated decision when you go grocery shopping next time. At the end of the day, it is your personal choice whether you buy organic or conventional produce. My personal advice is to take into consideration what your priorities and values are, keeping your budget in mind.
The way I personally look at this situation is I rather pay a little extra now to buy organic produce, then paying medical bills later in life. So, I’ll leave you with the words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”