BY FRED CARVALHO
You’ve probably heard that you should eat more organic products because of all of the pesticides that go into today’s fruits and vegetables. In principle, you agree with that and you swear to only buy organic. Until one day you find yourself in your local supermarket, in front of the fruit stand, looking to buy some apples. Then you realise how expensive the organic apples are. If you eat a lot of apples (or fruits in general) or you have a big family to feed, you start doing the math and thinking "should I buy organic or save the money for something more worthwhile, like eating out with my friends or buying a nice gift?"
Just take a look at Target’s organic and conventional apples sold by the exact same brand.
When you look at the cost per pound (the same as 2 large apples), the organic version costs USD 1.65, whereas the conventional version costs USD 1.33. That’s an extra USD 32c you spend PER 2 APPLES. If you eat 4 apples a week, that adds up to USD 33.28 per year! That’s a lot for a couple of organic apples. So you might start thinking "Is it really worth it?"
The organic Trend
In 2019 organic food sales represented 5.8% of total food sales in the US. Ten years ago that number was just 3.1%. What happened during these 10 years? Perhaps more important - why?
Source: Organic Trade Association: Industry Survey conducted 2/7/2020 - 3/27/2020
According to a systematic review on organic food, there are multiple reasons people are shifting to organic products. However, the researchers stated that the major reason people are buying more organic produce is due to the “belief that organic food is healthier or has a superior nutritional profile”. But is it?
When it comes to food, it is always better to be safe than sorry. The question then becomes - should I buy all of my fruits and vegetables from organic sources? That can become expensive very easily and we don’t want that. Keep on reading because this information might save you a couple of hundred bucks a year without any harm to your body or that of your loved ones.
What research is telling us about organic Food
Research on organic produce is increasing. A systematic review on the benefits of consuming organic produce looked at 35 studies (out of an initial pool of 5116 studies) to draw a conclusion. For instance, one of the studies consisted of dividing a group of 43 men into 3 subgroups - one eating organic apples, one eating conventional apples and one control (i.e. restricted apple intake). The researchers tracked these men for 5 weeks and concluded that there was no difference between the conventional and organic groups for levels of plasma glucose, cholesterol, Vitamin C, Vitamin E or antioxidant markers. Going back to the systematic review, despite their efforts to look at the highest quality studies made with humans, the result was inconclusive. They arrived at the conclusion that the “current evidence base does not allow a definitive statement on the long-term health benefits of organic dietary intake”.
Organic Media - the impact on consumer choices
From the NutriNet-Sante study, it was concluded that regular consumers of organic food are most likely to be female, health-conscious, physically active, and in the higher brackets of education and income than their non-organic consuming counterparts.
What about other people, do they also choose organic over conventional? Another study found out that in lower-income areas, the media is actually deterring people from eating any vegetables or fruit - organic or conventional. In fact, “61% of the participants agreed that they felt media encourages them to purchase organic foods”, which leads them to choose neither organic nor conventional. One example of such media is the yearly “Dirty Dozen” issued by the EWG. This list comprises the 12 conventional foods that theoretically have higher incidence of pesticide residue.
A peer-reviewed article from the Journal of Toxicology debunked the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” by pointing out some important flaws in the data collection, analysis and discussion. However, the repercussions are significant. Out of the 510 surveyed, 34% “associated conventionally grown FV with the ‘‘use of pesticides/fertilizers/chemicals,’’ and 56% associated organic farming practices with ‘‘free of pesticides/fertilizers/chemicals.’”. Most notably, the researchers showed the Dirty Dozen list and asked the surveyors how it influences their opinion on Fruits and Vegetables. Quite remarkably, this list elicited the greatest number of people to choose ‘‘less likely’’ to purchase any type of Fruits and Vegetables.
There’s no doubt that organic food consumption is on the rise. In 2010, organic food sales represented 3.1% of total food sales in the US. In 2019 that number was 5.8% - almost double.
Despite some controversy on the benefits of organic food, what’s most important is to keep promoting fruit and vegetable consumption - conventional or organic.
You may opt for consuming only organic fruits and vegetables, but under no circumstance is it beneficial to completely abdicate fruit and vegetables. Organic or not, fruits and vegetables have several benefits that largely outweigh the residual potential risks of conventional food production.
About the Author: Fred Carvalho