Does your weekly shop have to be all organic, or can you get away with some non-organic buys? NH uncovers the facts and dispels the myths
Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to buy organic, with discount supermarkets and farmers’ markets alike offering a selection of pesticide-free produce. However, we know that buying this type of food can be an investment as it’s more expensive than conventionally-grown goods, meaning that sometimes an all-organic diet simply isn’t an option. With this in mind, we took a look at the benefits of eating this way, as well as the food which you should buy organic if you can, and those that you can afford to get away with to save your wallet.
The benefits of going organic
Choosing to eat organic is better for both you and the environment, as nutritional therapists Clare Daley and Helen Drake at Cytoplan (cytoplan.co.uk) explain. “One benefit is better crop hygiene, as organic farms rotate their crops and use mulch as it prevents soil erosion, maintains soil nutrients, encourages earthworms and controls soil temperature,” they say. “Furthermore, organic foods contain more nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including flavonoids, cartenoids and anthocyanins, than nonorganic produce – for example, organic meat can provide up to 50 percent more omega 3 fatty acids as well as lower concentrations of saturated fat, and organic milk gives both more iron and vitamin E than regular milk. This is because phytonutrients are the plants’ natural defences and those that aren’t sprayed with pesticides need a stronger defence.” If that wasn’t enough, organic food is also free from glyphosate, a harmful pesticide which is regularly found in bread, while non-organic food contains 60 percent less antioxidants. In addition, some pesticides have been linked to health problems including brain and nervous system toxicity, hormone disruption and skin, eye and lung irritation. However, if money’s tight, buying all-organic produce can be near impossible, so what are your options?
Only skin deep?
If you’re on a budget, you may think that you can get away with buying certain non-organic items – such as fruits and vegetables with skins, as logic suggests that they could be less contaminated by pesticides. However, this isn’t true all of the time, as Clare and Helen explain. “It’s not always the case that produce that has a skin is lower in pesticides. For example, both apples and potatoes show high contamination levels and this is because the pesticides will unfortunately be absorbed through the outer layer.” Even produce which you would normally peel to eat could still contain harmful chemicals – “bananas have a thick skin, but are very heavily sprayed and have been found to be contaminated, so we recommend buying them organically,” they say. “Carrots have also been shown to be high in pesticide residue, so organic is best in this instance, too”. On the other hand, pineapples are relatively clean and show next to no residue, thanks to their tough exteriors. So, how do you know whether what you’re buying is safe from contamination? Luckily, the testing has been done for you. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) publishes an updated list of what they term the ‘dirty dozen’ – those foods that have been most sprayed with pesticides – and the ‘clean 15’ – the produce which has been shown to have the least contamination.
The dirty dozen
Buying all organic isn’t always necessary, but there is a way to decide which produce you should prioritise buying organically, as there are there are certain foods which are sprayed with pesticides more than others. After rigorous testing, the EWG has published its 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which reveals the top 12 foods that have the most contamination, AKA the dirty dozen. This year they are:
The results are stark, as the EWG explains: “Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides compared to other produce.” They found that more than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide – with a single sample of strawberries showing 20 different types. Meanwhile, the spinach that was tested had, on average, twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.
The clean 15
At the opposite end of the scale, there are 15 different fruits and vegetables that you can afford to not buy organically, as they are relatively uncontaminated by pesticides – in fact, no single sample tested positive for more than four types of pesticides, and only five percent had two or more types. According to this year’s EWG report, the clean 15 are:
Overall, avocados and sweetcorn were the cleanest, with only one percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides.
By following these easy tips, you’ll be healthier and be able to save your pennies at the same time!
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