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Organically, Locally, or Conventionally Grown Produce..Which is Best?

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  September 25, 2012 11:52 AM

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For the best nutrition, the produce that you should buy is:

1.    Organically grown
2.    Locally grown
3.    Conventionally grown
4.    What’s on sale
5.    Any of the above

The answer is: Any of the above.  When it comes to good nutrition, it doesn’t matter which type of produce you purchase as long as you eat it.  While a diet rich in fruits and veggies can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes, some of the leading causes of death among Americans, the majority of Americans are not eating the minimum recommended 4.5 cups of produce daily.

By definition, organic produce, as compared to conventionally grown, is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering, or irradiation.  Local produce can be grown organically or conventionally.  In recent weeks, the buzz in the nutrition world has been the findings of a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which suggested that from a nutrition standpoint, organic produce, in general, is not more nutritious than conventionally grown alternatives.   Of course, the follow up question is: but what about the pesticide residues on the conventionally grown produce?  When the researchers who authored this study looked at the pesticide residues on the produce, the conventionally grown fruits and veggies did have more detectable pesticide residues as a whole.  However, the amount found was below the levels that would pose a health risk as established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Keep in mind that washing and scrubbing produce with a veggie brush under running water  (which everyone should do no matter how the produce is grown) will help remove some of the pesticide residues as well as dirt and harmful bacteria that could cause foodborne illness.

On the local front, buying produce grown locally means that you are buying it in season.  This leads me to the next point.  According to the latest survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), the number one driving force behind the food choices made by the consumer in the supermarket is “taste.”  Buying your produce in season will help ensure that it tastes seasonally delicious.   If you go apple picking this fall, you will once again be reminded that nothing tastes as good as a New England apple plucked off a local tree.   (When you go apple picking, buy the full bushel, not half bushel.  You’ll regret the smaller purchase when you get home, and the apples are devoured in days.)

The number two driving force among supermarket shoppers, according to the IFIC survey, is “price.”  The bad news is that food prices are forecasted to increase yet another 3 to 4 percent in 2013 according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).   Unfortunately, organic produce can be as much as double the price of conventionally or locally grown:  
Buying the produce that is on sale (which often times means that it is also in season) will allow you to get the most disease-fighting fruits and veggies for your buck. 

Take-Home Message:   No matter how the produce is grown: organically, locally or conventionally,  you can’t go wrong.  Just eat more fruits and veggies.

What do you buy and why?  Please post below.

                                    Follow Joan on Tweeter at:  joansalgeblake

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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