Organic or conventional, choose more produce

August 3, 2016 GMT

I sometimes get asked if I eat only organic fruits and vegetables. My honest answer? I buy what looks freshest and what fits my budget. And that includes organic as well as conventionally grown produce. If that sounds like heresy, hear me out.

Organic food is catching on in all segments of our food supply, reported Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) at the recent Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, California. And millenials — the generation born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s — seem to be leading the charge. This group chooses organic produce more than any other previous generation, says Batcher.

What if an organic alternative is not available where you shop? Or the price is higher than you want to spend? Don’t be afraid of other choices, says Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, a science-based non-profit organization that represents organic and conventional food producers (www.safefruitsandveggies.com.) “The one consistent message that health experts agree upon and that is confirmed with decades of nutrition research is that a diet rich in fruits and veggies — whether conventional or organic — leads to better health and a longer life.”

The value of eating more fruits and vegetables — organically produced and otherwise — is undeniable. According to research reported in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, if just half of our population would eat one extra serving of a fruit or a vegetable every day, we could prevent 20,000 cases of cancer in this country every year. Wow.

Does that mean that organic food doesn’t matter? Not at all. Organic food is very safe and increasingly more available. But so is conventionally grown produce, say food toxicologists. What really matters is that we eat more plant-based foods.

Dr. Carl Winters from the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California analyzed pesticide exposures in food and reported his findings in a recent issue of the International Journal of Food Contamination. He found very low levels of pesticide residues in conventionally produced foods as well as in organic foods (yes, some synthetic pesticides are approved for use on organic crops). And he concluded that our exposure to pesticides from either method of farming are at levels far below what might be a health concern.

Still worried about pesticides on your food? Experts in food safety, toxicology and nutrition say we can reduce and often eliminate any existing residues by simply washing our fruits and vegetables in clean water. (Some packaged products such as salad mixes, are already washed; check the label.)

What we choose to eat is an individual decision. And one size does not always fit all, say nutrition experts. One goal is to eat more produce. Organic is great. So are fruits and vegetables grown by conventional methods. Pick one or the other. But pick it!