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The Lake News Online
  • Nutrition tip of the week: Are organic foods healthier?

  • You may have heard about a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that indicated organic food is neither more nutritious nor any less prone to bacterial contamination than conventionally grown foods.


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  • You may have heard about a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that indicated organic food is neither more nutritious nor any less prone to bacterial contamination than conventionally grown foods. This study also found no evidence of a health benefit attached to organic food. Two hundred forty studies conducted from 1966 to 2011 were examined by researchers to look at nutrient and contaminant levels in food grown organically versus food grown conventionally.
    Detectable pesticide residue was found in 7 percent of organic produce, even though by USDA definition, a food labeled organic must be produced without using conventional pesticides. Thirty-eight percent of conventional produce did have detectable pesticide residue, but none that exceeded the maximum allowed limits. Both organic and conventional foods were at similar risk for bacterial contamination.
    Organic foods generally cost at least 25 percent more than conventionally grown counterparts and make up 12 percent of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales. Most people buy organic products because they believe those foods are healthier or more nutritious, they are avoiding pesticides and other toxins, or because they feel organic farming is better for the environment.
    Despite efforts by the food industry to equate the word “organic” with “nutritious,” this has never been the case. A tomato grown conventionally has the same nutrition profile as one grown organically. Remember, just because a processed food product has an organic label it doesn’t mean it is a healthy food. A pepperoni pizza made with organic ingredients isn’t better for you than a regular pepperoni pizza.
    The Environmental Working Group analyzes data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine pesticide residue and ranks fruits and vegetables based on how much or how little residue is found. They estimate buying organic versions of the top 12 “dirtiest” foods would decrease our pesticide exposure by 80 percent. The 2012 “Dirty Dozen” include: apples, bell peppers, domestic blueberries, celery, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach and strawberries. You can download and print a handy shopper’s guide from www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.
    Regardless of the produce purchased, there are things you can do to further reduce your risk of bacterial or pesticide exposure.
    Clean produce thoroughly with cold tap water. Fruit and vegetable “washes” have not been found to be any more effective than plain tap water, so you might want to save your money.
    Remove and discard the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage.
    Wash prepackaged items, like salad mixes, even though they may say they have been prewashed.
    Scrub firm produce like melons and potatoes with a clean scrub brush.
    Wash the outside of fruits and vegetables even if it won’t be consumed. (bananas, kiwi, avocado, etc)
    Although edible peelings provide desirable fiber, consider peeling those fruits and vegetables (apples, potatoes, cucumbers, peaches and nectarines) on the dirty dozen list before eating, especially if given to someone at higher risk like small children, the elderly, pregnant women or anyone with a suppressed immune
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    Whether you choose to purchase organic depends on your priorities and if you have the extra money to spend on these products. Just keep in mind that they are not more nutritious, they may not be totally pesticide free and there is no advantage as far as bacterial risk. The benefits of all fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh any known risk of consuming pesticide residue.
    Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.

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