There is a lot to grocery shopping than just buying fruits and vegetables that look right to you. If you are purchasing an apple at a supermarket, which one would you choose – the one that’s shiny or the one that’s organic? You might think they are just apples in the end and it’s smarter to shop for the one that costs less. Unfortunately, choosing the less expensive one over the organic produce comes with a price.
Today, most conventional produce available in the market are exposed to pesticides and have residues of toxins present on them, posing a severe threat to health. Let’s take a look at some of the potential health effects of pesticides.
Potential Health Effects Of Pesticides
Pesticides are present in the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the water you drink. They are used to kill, repel, prevent, or control pests and organisms like rodents, fungus, insects, and weeds that cause damage to the crops. However, these have horrifying impacts on both the environment and health:1
- Cause allergies: Exposure to pesticides cause allergies that may affect the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract and lead to long-term illnesses like asthma.
- Disrupt the endocrine system: Exposure to low concentrations of pesticides can impact the endocrine system. Some of these effects include reduced semen quality that causes fertility issues, early puberty, and high risk of developing cancer of the prostate and breast.
- Affect the growth of children: Children, whose bodies and organs are developing, are vulnerable to these chemicals and may experience reduced cognitive functions due to pesticide exposure.
- Threaten the ecosystem: Bees, butterflies, and other insects, birds, and animals are essential for pollination. Pesticides may harm or kill these pollinators that we are dependent on to support our food systems.
For these reasons and more, there is a lot of demand for organic produce. The downside is that they are way more expensive than conventional produce. If you are not really sure about the differences between organic and conventional produce, read on.
Organic Produce Versus Conventional Produce
Organic produce refers to how farmers grow and process their food. Organic farming methods are different from conventional methods. Here are a few common differences between the two:2
- To promote growth and fertilize the soil: Conventional farmers make use of chemical fertilizers, whereas organic farmers use manure and compost.
- To prevent pests: Conventional farmers use pesticides and other chemicals to protect the produce from pests and rodents, whereas organic farmers rely on birds and insects, mating disruption, or traps.
- To prevent the growth of weeds: Conventional farmers use chemical herbicides, whereas organic farmers rotate crops, hand weeds, or mulches (use natural materials like decaying leaves and compost to enrich and insulate the soil).
- For animal growth: Conventional farmers use antibiotics, growth hormones, and medications to boost their growth and to protect them from diseases. Organic farmers feed their animals organic food and ensure they have a balanced diet and are kept in clean environments.
Apart from organic and conventional produce, there are genetically modified foods (GMs) that are available in the market. These foods are produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – organisms whose genes (DNA) have been altered using methods that are different from those that occur naturally.3 Most of the GM foods are produced to improve yield through better resistance to pesticides and diseases. Most studies show that GM foods may affect human health adversely and, therefore, call for more research concerning the safety of GM foods.4
With so much information about organic, conventional, and GMO produce, shopping for your groceries can sometimes be overwhelming. So, here’s a smart way to do your shopping… throw healthy produce into your cart without burning a hole in your pocket.
Be Smart With Your Grocery Shopping
Take A Look At The Price Look-Up
You cannot tell how your fruits and vegetables were grown when you purchase them in the supermarket, but you can distinguish organic, conventional, and genetically modified (GM) produce by looking at the Price Look Up (PLU) sticker.5
- Conventional produce will have a four-digit code starting with the number 4.
- Organic produce will have a five-digit code starting with the number 9.
- Genetically modified produce will have a five-digit code starting with the number 8.
This, however, can only be applied to the produce available in the supermarkets, where the labels are necessary. Purchasing produce from food stalls and booths where farmers sell their own products is a different ball game. In such cases, ask your questions and use the answers to guide you in your decisions.
Follow The Three Rules
Sometimes, you may not be able to afford all organic produce. When this happens, follow these three simple rules:
- Go organic when buying foods that do not require peeling.
- Go for conventionally grown produce when buying foods that can be eaten only after peeling.
- Never buy genetically modified foods.
Be Mindful Of The Dirty Dozen
To make things easier, check out this list of produce that is known as the “dirty dozen.” They are so called because the fruits and vegetables on the list contain high concentrations of pesticides.6 It is best to stick to the organic version of these foods to prevent health risks.
- Sweet bell peppers
Trust The Clean Fifteen
You can stick to conventional produce for the foods in this list known as the “clean fifteen.” Relatively low pesticide residues are usually found on these foods.7
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
Decrease the risk of exposing your health to pesticides by choosing a healthy mix of both organic and conventional produce and avoiding GM foods. In addition, it is a good practice to read the labels before the final billing.
|↑1||Pesticides. Toxics Action Center.|
|↑2||It’s Easy Being Green: Organic vs. Conventional Foods—The Gloves Come Off. Center for American Progress.|
|↑3||Food, Genetically modified. World Health Organization.|
|↑4||Dona, Artemis, and Ioannis S. Arvanitoyannis. “Health risks of genetically modified foods.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 49, no. 2 (2009): 164-175.|
|↑5||How Do I Know If It’s Really Organic?. American Association of Retired Persons.|
|↑6||Dirty Dozen. Environmental Working Group.|
|↑7||Clean Fifteen. Environmental Working Group.|