The Boston Globe just published a great piece on the controversy surrounding the added health benefits of eating organic produce versus commercially grown produce (i.e., grown with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides). The take home messages for me:
1. Eat your fruits and veggies.
Too few Americans are getting even close to the healthful quantities of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are considered nutrient dense, calorie light foods. They are essential to a well-balanced lifestyle. There may be some harm in giving Americans yet another reason to skimp on their vegetables by saying that commercially grown produce is harmful to your health.
2. Organic produce is intuitively, but not scientifically proven superior to commercial produce.
As a student of epidemiology, the idea of being able to scientifically prove anything is elusive. All we can ever do is disprove; disprove that organic produce is not the same as commercially grown produce. Detecting a significant difference between organic and commercial produce is made even more difficult when the effects of such exposure is likely to manifest itself in many different ways over the course of one's life. Teasing out how the pesticides in produce cause poor health compared to the myriad other causes is nearly an impossible task. We must first look to more basic science studies for this one.
3. Buy organic when you can, and when it matters most.
In the midst of an economic recession, it is likely that people will be splurging on organic (and out of season) blueberries, nectarines, and avocados. However, the price differential of some organic vs. conventional produce is not quite as steep. Also, certain conventionally grown produce has been shown to require much more pesticide and chemical manipulation. A list of "top" fruits and vegetables to buy organic, if possible, can be found at the DeliciousOrganics website, which also has a list of links to more information surrounding this controversy. I will not say these are bias-free links or sites.
Remember to consider the advantages to buying local, as well. You may not be able to find local, organic produce at your nearest farmers market (are you so blessed as to have one where you live). But, there are many environmental advantages to buying local (Time included this in their Global Warming Survival Guide).