Organic Foods: What is Worth the Price?

by Kate Sortun
I often find myself in the produce aisle of the grocery store weighing the choices between organic and conventional produce. Two of the questions that come to mind in my shopping are what foods are worth paying more for the organic choice versus the conventional? And if I purchase the conventional, what steps can be taken to reduce the exposure to pesticides?

What happens when an individual eats more fat than the body can process? It is stored in the fat cells of the individual. And stored along with this fat are fat-soluble components, such as pesticides. Many pesticides used in farming are considered fat soluble, meaning they are transported with the help of and concentrated in fats. Understanding the affinity these pesticides have for fat, can help guide organic v. conventional choices. Based on this characteristic of pesticides use the following guidelines to reduce exposure:
-If you are going to buy only one item organic…it should be butter (highest in pesticides of all animal products)
-The risk of pesticides lowers with the reduction of fat, so you are better off buying organic whole milk, but are at very low pesticide risk with non-fat or skim milk so this can be a conventional purchase. [Editor's note: pesticides aren't the only concern for those who buy organic milk, regardless of the fat content--there are concerns about the use of growth hormones and antibiotics. Organic dairy will have been made without these. --J. Learn]
-To minimize exposure to pesticides trim the fat from meat, fish, and poultry. Fruits and vegetables are another common source of pesticide exposure.

As with fat and animal products, there are characteristics of various produce that can increase or decrease the risk of exposure. One factor that can greatly reduce the risk of exposure is the shell, peel, rind, etc. of certain produce. When you don’t consume these outer layers, the exposure to pesticides is greatly reduced. Examples include bananas, avocados, and pineapples. Other produce on the other hand, such as apples, nectarines, and pears, are usually consumed with the outer layer increasing the exposure to pesticides. Apples are particularly higher risk because the wax coating applied to the apple reduces the amount of pesticides that can be rinsed off. Based on these characteristics of pesticides and produce use the following guidelines to reduce exposure:
-High pesticide risk fruits and vegetables include (may be worth spending the extra amount on organic): apples, carrots, celery, cherries, grapes, lettuce, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and bell peppers.
-Low pesticide risk fruits and vegetables include (may not be worth spending the extra money on organic): asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, mango, onions, papaya, kiwis, sweat peas, eggplant, and pineapples.
-Wash and scrub all produce in warm running water.
-Peel produce such as apples and carrots.
-Trim the outer leaves from produce such as lettuce and cabbage.

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