I was surprised by a recent clinical report on organic foods. I summarized the findings in the video. Sure, I thought organic foods didn’t offer any more nutrition (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids) than foods grown conventionally. I’d seen a large study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evaluating research spanning 1966 to 2011 that didn’t cite evidence that foods were more nutritious or better for us, per se. But I did recognize that data was on the side of organics when it came to keeping our children healthy and safe–because of pesticides.

I wasn’t entirely correct.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ clinical report found that although levels of pesticides differ on fruits and produce, the effects on the health of our children remain inconclusive for recommending organics. If money were no issue, the short answer to the question of “Should I buy organic food?” is “Yes.” But finances do clearly play a part in our decisions. Thing is, many consumers are buying organic foods: in 2010, organic foods sales were over $26 billion. And although organic foods are better for the environment and the future of farming, data doesn’t confer organic foods offer more nutrition or improved safety from bacteria. The big difference between organic and conventionally grown produce is the pesticide residuals…but current science doesn’t bear out to always recommend organic food when you’re making those grocery-aisle decisions. Especially when it comes to milk and meat.

The Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) went so far as to hold off on recommending organic infant formula or milk (no real pesticides detected and although bovine hormone levels differed, health effects didn’t). And the AAP remain fairly equivocal about organic meat and produce. But they did point out that making priorities for some organic foods may make financial sense for many of us.

What Foods Should I Buy Organic?

If you can afford it and are considering buying selective organic foods, check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists. The Dirty Dozen (those foods you should try to buy organic when you can) and the Clean Fifteen (those foods you may want to save your money on and buy conventionally). The AAP recommended using these two websites when making decisions: Consumer Report’s: Fruits and Vegetable, When to Buy Organic and EWG’s Shopper’s Buide to Pesticides. The very short version:

  • Buy apples, celery, lettuces, and berries organic when you can. If you aren’t going to peel it, you may want to buy organic. Buy conventionally grown fruits and veggies that have thick skins that will come off before eating (avocados, pineapples, corn, mangoes, eggplant).
  • When home, use a veggies brush and wash all produce and veggies thoroughly. Then rinse again and repeat…

Until organic foods are the standard –around the world –and price differences disappear, we can make choices when and if we buy organic or not. Reality is whatever we do, the most important (and very rigorous) task for our family is the ongoing effort to provide a diet high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meat and dairy. That in itself will likely always be far more important that what brand we buy or how the food was grown…