I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about organic v. non-organic raw foods. You’ve been asking me what does *organic* really mean. Organic simply means that fruits and vegetables are grown without using pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineered organisms, or ionizing radiation. The U.S. government, like many others, has set up a certification system so that, before anything can be labeled “organic,” a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant also must be certified.
Organic foods are produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to preserve the environment. Converting land to organic status is a three-year process. There is a two-year conversion process that requires building up the natural fertility of the land. Produce grown in the first year cannot be labeled as organic. In the second year, produce may be stated as “In Conversion”. It is not until the third year that produce may be labeled as fully organic.
Well, this all sounds good, but now you should be asking how that affects the quality and prices of the raw foods you are buying.
Well, unfortunately, the answer seems to be *it depends* — there aren’t any studies that say that organic raw foods definitely are better than non-organic, though researchers found that organic tomatoes have higher levels of phytochemicals and vitamin C than conventional tomatoes. But, the truth is sometimes it’s not worth paying extra for organic. For example, with fruits that have a thick inedible skin, like bananas or oranges, studies have shown that applied pesticides do not get through the skin to the edible portions.
But there are times when you should spend the extra money for organic, especially when feeding your babies and children certain fruits and vegetables. Children’s developing bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins, and they may be at risk for higher exposure if the produce has been treated with pesticides and fertilizers. Baby food is often made up of condensed fruits or vegetables, potentially concentrating pesticide residues.
And, with certain fruits and vegetables, even though washing and rinsing them may reduce the levels of some pesticides, it does not eliminate them. Peeling also reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. So, with these raw foods, you should try to buy organic for your entire family: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. The USDA’s own lab testing revealed that, even after washing, some fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Nectarines especially retain high levels of pesticide residue. Peaches and red raspberries also often are exposed to the most different kinds of pesticides. Celery and spinach often carry pesticides as well. Check out www.foodnews.org for more information on pesticide levels for other types of raw foods.