Without fail every time I meet someone new and disclose that I am a Registered Dietitian, I am always prompted for my thoughts on various nutrition topics, which I don’t mind; I just find it entertaining. The most recent topic that was brought up to me was organic, so I thought I would take this opportunity to enlighten you all. For the sake of this blog, I am only going to focus on organic fruits and vegetables.
Should you be buying organic? Are they more nutritious? Do you need to always shop at Whole Foods? Before we jump into those questions, let’s first take a look at what organic means.
What is organic?
Well, according to Jim Gaffigan,
Funny, yet true. Anyways, jokes aside, here is the USDA’s definition: “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” Yeah…all of that doesn't really mean anything to you does it? Didn’t think so. The USDA has a huge guide if you are really interested in all of the details, but basically for fruits and vegetables it means...
- Land must have had none of the prohibited substances applied to it within the last 3 years
- Crops were never exposed to irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used
- Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
I know, I know, blah blah blah. Basically what I want you to take away from this section is that the term organic does not mean that no sprays were used.
Why do we use pesticides?
I am not trying to trick you on this one; pesticides are used to keep pests away to stop them from killing all of the plants. Case in point, last summer I found this little gem on one of my tomato plants…
…and proceeded to scream like a little girl until I could collect myself to hit it off the plant with a stick, which didn't work very well. Luckily for me, my roommate came home to save both me and my tomato plant. Imagine if you had a whole field of tomatoes and had an infestation of these little guys, it wouldn't be pretty.
Should I buy all organic?
Well, I am not sure about you, but I don’t make enough money to only buy organic fruits and vegetables. If you are trying to be a bit more budget conscious but still want to try to go the organic route, there are some fruits and vegetables that make more sense to buy organically than others. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a yearly list of fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticides used in growing said crop. EWG puts out two lists, one being the Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen.
If you are ballin' on a budget...
but still want to go the organic route, you can spend your money more wisely by only purchasing the fruits and vegetables off of the Dirty Dozen list, that way you aren't paying extra for organic bananas that have such a thick peel (that you more than likely are not eating) and isn't really worth it in the long run.
Organic vs Local
To start with, organic and local are not mutually exclusive, meaning you could find some fruits and veggies that are both local and organic, but more often than not, that is not the case. So I am going to step on my soapbox for a hot second. Just because something it not labeled organic doesn’t necessarily mean that it is not. For example, if you visit a farmers market you may see some signage indicating that no sprays/herbicides/pesticides were used. There is a good chance that this produce is organic, however becoming a certified organic farm is a very long and expensive process that small farmers may not be financially realistic. In this case, the best way to know is to ask them.
Another entire blog post could be about how you define local because there is not standard definition in terms of miles from where you live and what food products you count as local. For example, we have a Coca-Cola bottling plant here in Charlotte, which uses local water in addition to whatever other flavorings and colorings they add to their beverages. Is that local? (Steps off soapbox)
Breaking it down
Do you HAVE to buy organic fruits and vegetables? Nope. Should you? It definitely won’t hurt you physically (maybe a little bit financially). Are organic fruits and vegetables more nutritious? Nope. Coming from the perspective of a Registered Dietitian, I just care that you are actually eating fruits and vegetables. You may want to look all cool and all by buying only organic food, but what good is it doing you if it just sits in your fridge until you throw it out anyways? From the perspective of the pseudo hippy that I am, buying organic and/or local is better for the environment as well. Well, I am off to go tie dye some shirts while listening to Bob Dylan. Until next time!
Keep it Fresh,
Keep it Green,