Organic Produce: A Waste of Money or Health necessity?

December 14, 2023

The organic industry is booming and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down any time soon. The industry in Canada alone is a multi-billion dollar industry with a project 8% annual rate growth. However, I often get patients asking me if purchasing organic food is worth the extra cash? On average, organic foods cost significantly (up to 70%) more than their non-organic counterparts. This is the number one reason most people tell me they are not buying organic foods.

The next pressing question after the cost is the health benefits of organic produce. A lot of people want to know if organic foods are that much better for their health? Is it worth spending the extra dollars or is it just a waste of money? Most proponents of organic food state that organic produce is more nutritious than its conventional counterparts. However, a deeper dive into the current literature shows that organic and conventional produce have relatively equal amounts of vitamins and minerals. The one exception is that organic produce contains up to 40% more antioxidant properties than its conventional counterpart.

Why Pay 70% More For Equal Nutrition?

The main reason you should consider paying more for organic produce is not the nutritional content but the absence of pesticides/ chemicals in organic produce. From a health and longevity perspective, organic foods are higher in antioxidant levels (anthocyanins, flavonoids, carotenoids), omega 3 fatty acids and lower in toxic metabolites (pesticides, heavy metals and antibiotic-resistant bacteria). An article in the journal Nutrients in 2020, showed that consuming an organic diet led to improved sperm count, higher chances of achieving a pregnancy and live birth in women, reduction of birth defects and pre-eclampsia, decreased allergy and ear infections in children, lower eczema, reduced incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and lower breast cancer rates in premenopausal women.

Do We All Need to Eat an Organic Diet?

This is a tricky question to answer because our genetics in part determine how sensitive each of us are to pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Several genetic variants affect how our liver detoxifies toxic metabolites and how much of an effect they have on our bodies.

Individuals that carry gene variants that negatively affect their detoxification pathways would benefit from eating a mostly organic diet. For these people, paying the extra money for organic produce might turn out to be a literal lifesaver.

Children should also eat a mostly organic diet since their bodies are less able to fully detoxify various chemicals that might be present in conventional produce.

For helpful resources on eating organically, visit www.ewg.org for their list of dirty dozen, clean fifteen produce. A more economical option is to mostly purchase the dirty dozen group of produce organically. This will go a long way in decreasing the toxic burden in the body. If purchasing organic produce is not feasible at all, soak your produce in a solution of baking soda and water for at least 20 minutes to remove most of the pesticide residue before eating.

Eating mostly organic foods may add years to your life and health to your years. However, even purchasing organics some of the time might be giving you more health benefits beyond what you can imagine.

References

Vanessa Vigar, Stephen Myers, Christopher Oliver, Jacinta Arellano, Shelley Robinson, and Carlo Leifert. A systemic review of Organic vs Conventional food consumption: Is there a measurable benefit on human health? Nutrients. 2020; V.12 (1)

How to identify organic products

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880

https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/is-organic-produce-more-nutritious-than-conventionally-grown-fruits-and

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