The article I wrote a couple of weeks ago called … The 80:20 Rule for Smoothies … implied that I didn’t buy organic fruits and vegetables. A couple of people emailed me about this – as they thought it was a little odd – given my obvious passion for smoothies and healthy living.
Well … I don’t normally buy organic produce for the sake of it. I will buy it when it’s the freshest and I’ll buy it when the quality looks better. However, it’s not my default setting … and I thought it might be a good idea to explain why.
I’m not one for doing something just for the sake of it. If I’m going to be paying more for something, and organic produce does cost more (at least here in London), then there has to be a good grounds.
As far as I can see there are a number of reasons to buy organic…
- Chemicals: organics will have less synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
(although they have organic versions)
- Nutrition: organic produce is just more nutritious
- Quality: organic produce is normally of higher quality
The biggest recent study of organic produce was done by Stamford School of Medicine (Sept 2012 full details here). The study looked at 237 of the most relevant studies and papers and tried to form some overall conclusions (this is what’s known as a meta-study – a study of studies).
Their main conclusion was…
After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
The researchers were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared the consistently healthier choice, despite running what Bravata called “tons of analyses.”
“Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious,” said Smith-Spangler, who is also an instructor of medicine at the School of Medicine. “We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”
However, there is one very significant difference – cost. At my local market organic produce is normally 20% to 30% more expensive.
So, what to do?
When I buy fruit and veg I look for a number of things…
- Seasonality: produce that’s in season will be cheaper, fresher,
local and readily available
- Freshness: how old is it and when am I likely to eat it?
- Flavour: in the UK the cheapest produce can be of very poor
flavour – normally because they are rushed and forced through.
This is especially true for fruit.
- Cost: if celery is expensive this week I’ll buy cabbage instead.
I adjust my weekly shop according to what’s currently available
and at a decent price.
There is one other point – that I feel puts all of these discussions into a little perspective. From everything I’ve read and seen over the last 20 years – the real difference between eating organic or not is dwarfed by other factors. For example, I believe it’s a lot better for you to have two green smoothies a week – than one organic smoothie. It’s probably a lot better to have one smoothie and a walk than an organic smoothie. You get the idea.
The actual difference to your overall health is quite marginal – whoever is right. There are so many other things that we should be really concerned about. Especially stress, smoking, drugs and alcohol … now stopping those WILL have an affect!
These choice are mine. I’m a healthy adult with no real allergies and a robust digestive system. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford good quality produce and fit enough not to be too concerned. However, your circumstances will be different. Each of us has to make our own decisions as to what we put in our grocery baskets and what we leave on the shelf.