Should you buy organic? Are some foods typically more laden with pesticides than other foods? Are there any good reasons to spend the extra money on organic products?
These are all fair questions to ask and if you or a loved one has diabetes, you already go the extra mile to put the healthiest fare you can on your table and in your mouths each day.
How important is it that you choose organic? Here’s what you need to know…
Are pesticides really harmful?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm.
Pesticides can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.
A scan of the research on the chemicals most commonly used against insects, rodents, fungi, weeds, and disease leaves no question that these substances cause adverse effects, from cancer and neurological problems to nervous system damage and birth defects.
Some research has even indicated a possible association between pesticide use and obesity and insulin resistance.
So, why isn’t everyone sick?
The EPA ensures that a pesticide can be used as long as there is a “reasonable certainty of no harm” to human health.
Where pesticides are used on food or feed crops, EPA sets “tolerances” for the amount of the pesticide residue that can legally remain in or on foods.
Aside from the absence of pesticide residue, some studies suggest that organic produce has more nutrients than its conventional counterparts, probably because the soil is left in better condition.
One recent study of blueberries shows that, at least sometimes, organic does deliver more.
Researchers took random samples of blueberries from different growers in New Jersey and compared their levels of phytonutrients.
Though levels varied from farm to farm, the organic blueberries were significantly higher in those antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant chemicals that fight off diseases and make blueberries the diabetes superfood they are (but count the carbs! Blueberries have 21 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fiber in a cup).
What does “certified organic” mean?
Products bearing the seal above must be no less than 95 percent organic.
Organic means that crops are grown without the use of prohibited substances, genetic engineering, radiation, or sewage sludge.
Instead of conventional fertilizers, organic farmers must use crop rotation, tilling, and natural composting to keep soil fertile and plants fed.
Fact: Did you know there’s at least one organic farm in your state? In 2005, for the first time, all 50 states in the U.S. had some certified organic farmland.
Organic standards for livestock cover animals used for meat, milk, eggs, and other animal products.
The animals’ feed must be 100 percent organic, they cannot be given hormones to promote growth, or antibiotics for any reason.
Also, the animals must have access to the outdoors, including pasture for animals who graze.
How can you reduce your pesticide exposure?
According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), you can significantly reduce your pesticide exposure by avoiding conventional (non-organic) versions of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables.
The EWG has come out with Food Scores where you can
If you get your five daily servings of fruits and veggies from the 15 most contaminated, you could consume an average of 10 pesticides a day.
If you eat conventional varieties of only the 15 least contaminated you can drop that number to less than two pesticides daily.
Number-one on their list (most pesticide residue): strawberries.
Fact: Americans buy more organic tomatoes than any other organic produce.
This one’s hard to swallow: Spinach is the second most contaminated on the EWG’s list.
Next comes: (3) Nectarines (4) apples (5) blueberries (6) peaches (7) cherries (8) pears (9) tomatoes and (10) celery.
The bottom line here: If you’re going to buy only some things organic, splurge on these.
Avocados — a true diabetes superfood, low in carbs, and high in fiber and healthy, unsaturated fat — are 48 on the list. In ascending order from there: frozen sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, and eggplant. These are 10 foods you can safely buy from the conventional bins if you need to shave the grocery bill.
If you have diabetes, it makes sense to buy organic when you can.
When your health is already compromised, you want to do your best to avoid toxins, even when they’re at allowable levels. But when money is tight, make the best choices for yourself and your family.
If you eat or drink a lot of a certain food (chicken? milk? eggs?), get the organic version.
For the full list of EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, click here.
1. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. What is a Pesticide? http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/index.htm (accessed 11/18).
2. Pesticide Action Network Pesticide Database.http://pesticideinfo.org/ (accessed 05/09).
3. Lim, Soo, Sun Young Ahn, In Chan Song, Myung Hee Chung, Hak Chul Jang, Kyong Soo Park, Ki-Up Lee, Youngmi Kim Pak, and Hong Kyu Lee. 2009. Chronic Exposure to the Herbicide, Atrazine, Causes Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Insulin Resistance. PLoS One 4, no. 4. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2664469&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract (accessed 05/09).
4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Setting Tolerances for Pesticide Residues on Foods. http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/stprf.htm (accessed 05/09).SOURCE:
1. Stevens-Garmon John, Chung L. Huang, and Biing-Hwan Lin. 2007. Organic Demand: A Profile of Consumers in the Fresh Produce Market. Choices. American Agricultural Economics Association. 22 (2): 109-115.
5. U.S.D.A. Agricultural Marketing Service. National Organic Program. Organic Labeling and Marketing (PDF). http://www.ams.usda.gov (accessed 05/09).
6. Environmental Working Group. http://www.foodnews.org (accessed 11/18).
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, RD, MS, CDE, CDN.
Updated 11/18 by dLife Editors.