The Organic Food Debate: What's Right for You?

Every day we make choices about what we eat and how we live. Will it be a salad or a burger? Should I drive my car or ride my bike? Now we ask ourselves, should we be buying organic food? Most shoppers say they buy organic food for reasons of personal or family health, the environment and/or animal welfare, but many say they can't afford the extra costs associated with buying organic.

If you want to eat organic foods for health, keep in mind that whether people buy organic or conventional, it’s the nutritional quality of the overall diet that matters. The key is to enjoy a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and beans. An excellent goal is to just meet your recommended fruit and vegetable servings per day, regardless of whether that produce is organically grown.

In November 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a clinical report on the health and environmental advantages and disadvantages of organic foods. The AAP recommended encouraging a health-promoting diet; answering questions about organics using the latest scientific evidence regarding nutrition, cost issues, and the environmental impact; and directing those who express concern about the potential health impact of pesticide residues in food to resources such as the Environmental Working Group’s “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides.”      

Choosing to buy organic foods is a personal decision. At this point, there’s no conclusive scientific evidence that shows that organically produced foods are healthier. Similarly, taste and appearance of organic or conventionally grown foods don’t show a significant difference.

Food safety experts say organic or not, consumers have to observe the same rules if they want to avoid getting sick. Thoroughly wash -- even scrub -- all produce. And, if the skin won't come clean, peel it off.

 Just like conventional chickens, organic birds can harbor salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter. These can cause anything from a mild intestinal illness to a life-threatening infection. To avoid that, organic chickens (or any organic meat) should be handled the same as a regular product -- observing cleanliness rules in the kitchen and making sure they are cooked to the proper temperature: 180 degrees for poultry, 160 degrees for beef.

 The FDA offers the following tips to reduce or eliminate any pesticide residues and bacteria that may be present on conventional or organic produce and meats:

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.

Wash produce with large amounts of cold or warm running tap water and scrub with a brush when appropriate. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.

Wash produce before you peel it so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.

Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.

Trim the fat from meat and the fat and skin from poultry and fish. Residues of some pesticides concentrate in animal fat.

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Talk to Dr. Strebel and Dr. Grolle at your next appointment about what they consider to be the best food choices for you and your unique needs.