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Ask the Expert: Organic Food

Q: How important is it to eat organic food?

A: Buying organic produce is a good idea, particularly for apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach, and strawberries – the produce containing the highest concentration of pesticide residues, according to the Environmental Working Group. Produce with lower levels of pesticides includes asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, and papaya. Organically grown plant foods are not only more flavorful than conventionally grown crops, but more nutrient-dense and richer in cancer-fighting antioxidants and other phytochemicals. Depending where you live, finding organic produce may seem challenging at first. Look for affordable organic food at a farmers market in your area or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to receive local seasonal harvests in a way that is sustainable for the environment.  Not all organic farms are certified organic because certification can be cost-prohibitive for some smaller farmers. However, by buying local produce, you can learn personally from farmers about their farming practices and ensure that you are getting safe and fresh produce. 

Keep in mind that animals store toxins in their tissues; therefore, reducing or avoiding dietary intake of animal products is one of the best ways to minimize your exposure to concentrated sources of contaminants. Additionally, buying organic meat does not necessarily mean that you are eliminating the health risks associated with the consumption of animal products. For instance, HCAs, a family of mutagenic compounds, are produced during the cooking process of chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Even meat that is cooked under normal grilling, frying, or oven-broiling may contain significant quantities of these mutagens. The longer and hotter the meat is cooked, the more these compounds form. There is also significant evidence that consuming dairy products, conventional or organic, may increase blood levels of IGF-1, a hormone in the body that has been associated with increased cancer risk. And both meat and dairy, regardless of whether or not they are organic, can provide considerable amounts of arachidonic acid, a pro-inflammatory fatty acid that may contribute to a wide array of illnesses including heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, and several cancers.

Choosing a plant-based diet that is also low in pollutants and pesticide residues will enable you to control some of the major factors that have been linked to the risk of cancer and other degenerative diseases.  

The Environmental Working Group. Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved March 12, 2007, at  http://www.foodnews.org/

Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. J Altern Complement Med. 2001;7(2):161-173.

Noren K. Levels of organochlorine contaminants in human milk in relation to the dietary habits of the mothers. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983;72:811-816.

Hergenrather J, Hlady G, Wallace B, Savage E. Pollutants in breast milk of vegetarians. Lancet. 1981;304:792.

Skog KI, Johansson MAE, Jagerstad MI. Carcinogenic heterocyclic amines in model systems and cooked foods: a review on formation, occurrence, and intake. Food and Chem Toxicol. 1998;36:879-896.

Robbana-Barnat S, Rabache M, Rialland E, Fradin J. Heterocyclic amines: occurrence and prevention in cooked food. Environ Health Perspect. 1996;104:280-288.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. 2005. 11th Report on Carcinogens. Available at http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/toc11.html.



   

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