Do you associate the word “organic” with being healthy? Many Americans do, and lots of us also associate “organic” with “expensive.” Now that organic foods are more widely available, many of them have become more reasonably priced. But still, organic products tend to be more expensive than conventional ones. And even if the difference is small, it adds up. As college students, many of us are on tight budgets. So is it worth it to shell out the extra cash for organics?
A recent study suggests that maybe it’s not. Researchers at Stanford University found that, when it comes to important nutrients, organic foods aren’t necessarily more nutritious than conventional food. They’re also no less susceptible to being contaminated by disease-causing agents like E. coli.
So you shouldn’t bother to buy organic, right? Not so fast. The researchers did find that pesticide levels are 31% lower in organic foods. Organic foods also have more phenols, chemical compounds that are believed to help fight cancer and even some neurological diseases. Not much is known about how exactly pesticides affect the body, but studies have shown that pesticide exposure can lead to developmental problems in children. It’s also possible that pesticide exposure can lead to an increased risk of cancer.
So what’s a health-conscious college student to do? Certain scientists say that not eating enough fruits and vegetables is far more harmful to your health than the pesticides you may be exposed to in conventional produce. So whether they’re organic or not, make sure you’re getting those fruits and veggies.
If you want to decrease your pesticide exposure with out denting your wallet too much, pay special attention to the foods with the highest and lowest pesticide levels. The Environmental Working Group‘s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15″ are a good place to start. The “Dirty Dozen” is a list of foods that are most likely to have high pesticide residues. These are the ones you want to buy organic. They include apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, and potatoes. They also warn against conventional green beans and greens like kale.
But some foods tend to have lower pesticide residues, and to save money, it’s fine to buy the conventional ones. The “Clean 15″ are onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and mushrooms.
In recent years, many buyers have been moving away from certified “organic” products and instead focusing on buying local. Most likely, there’s a farmer’s market near you. Buying local is better for the economy and the environment. There are also many small, local farms that grow their crops according to organic standards but haven’t gotten an official certification because it’s so expensive. When you can actually talk to the farmer, it’s much clearer where your food is coming from and what’s in it. Moral of the story? Be a smart shopper.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.