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Should I Buy Organic?

Is organic produce more nutritious than non-organic?

In 2009, a highly popularized systematic review was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Researchers examined 50 years of available research and concluded, “no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”  Fast-forward to 2012 where a systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined 17 studies of humans and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels.  This study also failed to demonstrate that organic produce was significantly nutritionally superior to conventionally grown food.

The belief that organic food offers little to no advantage over non-organic food is shared by many researchers and agricultural organizations.  However, I turn your attention to a more important point mentioned in my previous post: when it comes to the nutrient quality of food, we need to treat the soil, not the plant.

Okay, so the evidence supporting the nutritional advantage of organically produced food is lacking…so why are people still buying organic?

Pesticides and toxins and hormones, oh my!

Most health professionals advocate the buying of organic foods to minimize exposure to pesticide and agrichemical residues found in conventionally grown foods.  This topic is of particular importance to me as I work with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity patients who continually provide me with concrete evidence that the toxic burden we face in our society, including that from pesticides, is not to be taken lightly.  Also, environmental medicine is an aspect of Naturopathic Medicine that I find especially interesting.

The same 2012 systematic review mentioned above stated that, “consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” with the risk of exposure being 30% less with organic foods.  Also, a recent clinical report in Pediatrics, official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reported that, organic produce contains fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce, and consuming a diet of organic produce reduces human exposure to pesticides.”

Associate Professor of Environmental Exposure Biology at Harvard School or Public Health, Dr Alex Lu, conducted a study where children who normally ate conventionally grown food were given organic fruits and vegetables for five days, and then had the children return to their normal eating habits.  By the end of the five day organic diet, most of the urinary pesticide markers had disappeared!  See his video clip below:

Pesticides have been linked to neurological disorders, cancers, and other health problems.  This is especially concerning for children, who typically are in greater contact with toxins due to their activities and have under-developed detoxification mechanisms in place…not to mention that Canada is not doing much to improve pesticide regulation.

For more information on pesticides, the David Suzuki Foundation has released a document outlining 61 pesticides that are banned in other industrialized nations, but still used in Canada.  Also, you can read the position statement on pesticides released by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

Dirty dozen and clean fifteen:

The dirty dozen and clean fifteen refers to a list of the most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables according to the Environmental Working Group, one of the United State’s leading environmental health research and advocacy organizations.  Essentially, it would be ideal to buy the organic options for the foods contained in the dirty dozen category.  Whereas, the clean fifteen are fruits and vegetables that are less contaminated when grown conventionally.

It is important to remember that these lists can help guide you in your purchasing, rather than encouraging you to avoid these fruits and vegetables all together.

The Dirty Dozen (in order of contamination)
Sweet bell peppers

The Clean 15 (in order of least contamination)
Sweet Corn
Sweet peas
Sweet potatoes

CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta also weighs in on the topic:

The Bottom Line:

  • Should you avoid eating the dirty dozen all together?  No, fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not, are still crucial to healthy living and always trump fast/processed foods.
  • Organic produce is more expensive, true, but over-consumption of pesticides will cost you a whole lot more in the long run!
  • Examine the dirty dozen list and figure out those fruits and vegetables that you eat a lot of.  Depending on your budget, pick one, two, or more of those particular items and buy the organic option.  This small step will go a long way in promoting your health and longevity.
  • To protect yourself from pesticide residues, remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables and rinse the vegetables thoroughly.  Peel hard-skinned fruits or rinse with warm water and salt and lemon juice (or vinegar).
  • Remember, balance is key.  Eating only organic foods will not make up for a lack of stress management or exercise in your life.  Find your balance by seeking to adopt small changes towards healthy living in various aspects of your life, including diet, physical activity, and spiritual fitness.


  • Dangour AD, Dodhia SK, Hayter A, Allen E, Lock K, Uauy R. Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(3):680-685
  • “EWG’s 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.” Executive Summary. Environmental Working Group, n.d. Web. 07 July 2013. <>
  • Formal J, Silverstein J, Committee on Nutrition, Counsel on Environmental Health. Organic foods: health and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Pediatrics. 2012;120(5):e1406-e1415
  • “Pesticides.” Pesticides. Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, n.d. Web. 07 July 2013. <>
  • “Pesticides on Fruits and Vegetables.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. A.D.A.M., Inc., 06 Aug. 2012. Web. 07 July 2013 <>.
  • Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, JC Bavinger, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, Sundaram V, Liu H, Schirmer P, Stave C, Olkin I, Bravata DM.  Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: A systematic review.  Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(5):348-366
  • “Toxic Fruit and Veggies?” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 07 July 2013. <>
  • “What Are the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.” David Suzuki Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2013. <>