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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

An Organic Question Part 4- Health

The issue of organic food is a very complicated one and if you read the last three article on the subject, you know that there is a lot to unpack in the question of "Is Organic Better?" The original driver behind the push for organic food was a push to be more environmentally conscious about our food but the question of whether organic is more healthy has also arisen.

The first claim – "organic food is better for you because it has more nutrients." There have been a number of research projects that have looked into this claim, and they all found no evidence to support this statement. I mentioned in the first article that the biggest factor in the nutrient content of the produce we eat has more to do with how fresh it is, not how it was produced. In one study organic produce when compared to traditional produce, has no significant difference in nutrient content. The biggest differences found in produce, both organic and traditional, were those taken directly from the field compared to produce purchased from a grocery.

The second and by far the most concerning health issue associated with organic vs traditional produce is the use of chemicals on our food. Pesticide residue is found in some concentration on all traditionally produced food. Though pesticide residue is concerning for all food, the biggest danger is in what the Environmental Working Group has labeled the "Dirty Dozen." This list is very easy to find and is updated every year. The EWG tests produce looking at the concentration of pesticides and pesticide residues on food. Foods make their way onto the list based on the concentration of pesticides. The EWG also puts out a "Clean Fifteen" list and you guessed it. These are the foods with the lowest concentrations.

Organic food can be expensive. For many, reducing the exposure to pesticides on our foods is the target. Using the "Dirty Dozen" as a guide is a good way to ensure that you and your families exposure to these chemicals are reduced. If you do not have access to the list, a good rule of thumb to follow is if you are eating the skin, leaves or stalk, or the skin is thin you might be better off buying organic. If the skin is thick your risk is lower and traditional produce is okay.

The best way to ensure that you are getting the most out of your food and reduce your exposure to pesticides is to grow your own food or buy food grown locally. Develop a relationship with the people who grow your food and you will have a great idea of how it is produced. It is also much fresher than what you would typically find in the grocery store increasing its nutrient value. Farmers markets are available throughout the state, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects are amazing ways to find fresh, local, and seasonal produce that tastes better and is better for you. To find a CSA near you check out

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