Is organic food healthier?
Organic foods are grown without pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. But does eating organic prevent cancer? Our expert says when it comes to fruits and vegetables, the most important thing is to eat plenty and be sure to read the label.
Organic vegetables, fruits and grains are grown without pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals are used in conventional farming to kill pests and weeds. So it may seem obvious that food grown without these chemicals is better for you.
But when it comes to reducing your cancer risk, it's not clear that eating organic makes a difference.
“Eating organics can reduce your risk of ingesting commercially produced pesticides and chemicals,” says Erma Levy, research dietitian in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But the evidence that exists to support or refute eating organic foods to prevent cancer is unclear.” There also is no clear evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown food.
What we do know: Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day can reduce cancer risks. And the benefits far outweigh any risks related to pesticides.
If you’re still concerned about the safety of your food, follow these tips.
Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables
Washing your fruits and vegetables helps remove dirt, bacteria and chemicals from the surface. Gently rub them under running water to remove most of the dirt. Use a scrub brush for your melons and cucumbers.
There is no specific amount of time that you should clean your fruits and veggies. All fruits and vegetables should be washed before you eat them.
You also can peel fruits and vegetables, but you might lose some fiber and nutrients.
Keep an updated list of the “Dirty Dozen”
You can get information on the pesticide levels found in produce from the Environmental Working Group. That way, you can decide which organics to buy, and which non-organic fruits and vegetables are safer choices. The EWG puts out a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen every year.
It's important to remember that the Dirty Dozen list is not a list of fruits and vegetables you shouldn’t eat, but what you should choose if you prefer organic. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fiber that our bodies need to stay healthy. They are an important part of a well-balanced meal.
No single plant food can protect you from cancer, which is why it’s important to get in a variety of them in your diet daily.
"The more colorful your plate, the more health benefits you’ll receive from eating the rainbow," says Levy.
If [organic foods] help you keep a variety of produce in your diet, and excite you about eating vegetables and fruits, then organics are a good choice for you.
Read labels carefully
Labels tell you how a food is grown and processed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture created an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. Look for the USDA organic seal.
You also can look for the following food claims on the packaging:
- 100% organic: All ingredients are organic.
- Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients are organic.
- Made with organic ingredients: At least 70% of the ingredients are organic.
Does organic equal healthy?
Packaged or processed foods labeled organic can still be high in calories, fat and sugar. Look at the nutrition label, and try to avoid corn syrups and artificial ingredients.
“If organics give you a sense of confidence in your personal food choices, buy them,” Levy says. “If they help you keep a variety of produce in your diet, and excite you about eating vegetables and fruits, then organics are a good choice for you.”