I receive this question quite often in my clinical practice. Should I eat organic? My answer is typically the same - Yes, as much as your budget will allow.
Certified organic products guarantees a number of things, most importantly that the food is free of synthetic chemical based fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics. It does not mean that the food is automatically a health food because is is organic (hello organic ice cream) or that the organic item has more vitamins or minerals than the non-organic (typically called "conventional") version.
What it does mean, however, is that your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals are lessened when you make a conscious effort to eat organic and use low chemical products. I say lessened not completely avoided because it is impossible to not have some level of chemical exposure. There are nearly 100,000 different synthetic chemicals in our food, products, soil, air, and water and about 700 new chemicals are approved by the FDA each year. While you would think and hope that the FDA would only approve chemicals that have been proven to be safe, unfortunately that is not the case - the FDA is quite loosey-goosey with its rules and very often we discover an approved chemical is unsafe years after it hit the market.
One of the biggest concerns we have with these chemicals that seep into our food and then our bodies is the potential for them to interact with our reproductive system. While this is important for everyone, this is especially important for women and men who are trying to start a family. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have been advocating for policy change to protect the reproductive health of Americans against the harm of pesticide exposure. Many of these chemicals and pesticides are in the class of endocrine disrupters. Simply put, these are chemicals that interrupt the natural flow of hormones and have been linked to problems with weight management, breast cancer and reproductive health issues. The most "famous" endocrine disrupting chemical is Bisphenol A (BPA) found in plastics, but lesser known endocrine disrupting sources are the many many pesticides that are used on our food.
From a fertility and reproduction perspective, pesticides in general have been linked to reduced sperm count and reduced quality of sperm, menstrual irregularities, prolonged time to conceive and increased miscarriages in women. We also clearly see that these types of chemicals cross the placenta and expose baby in utero. Check out the video at the end of this post for a more detailed look at this.
WHAT DO I DO??
Ok - now while all of the above information may seem scary and I think we should all be upset that this information isn't as public as it should be, there are things you can do. While we will never be able to completely avoid all of these things, pesticide exposure and subsequent harm is all dose dependent. Meaning that the more you are exposed the more harm. So the less you can be exposed, the less likely you are to experience the effects.
The big takeaway is that there are many points of exposure that you can control, and take steps to reduce. Your food is a HUGE one. Here are my top tips:
Eat organic produce as much as possible. For me, that means I exclusively buy organic at home so I don't have to worry as much when I am eating out. Which brings me to my next point -
Cook more! This is the only way you can know and control your ingredients.
Join a local CSA (community supported agriculture) or farm box. Make sure they use organic practices. This not only supports local small farmers but ensures a steady flow of organic produce into your home. And it is typically (a lot) cheaper than buying the same amount of local organic at the store.
If cost is prohibitory to eating organic, don't let that to be a reason to forgo your fruits and veggies. Check out the Environmental Working Group's yearly list of "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen." Here you'll see that there are some fruits and veg that tend to have more pesticides used or in the final product, and some that have less. Use that as your guide for when to buy organic v. conventional to save some money.
Grow your own! It's fun!
Have any tips to share that have worked for you? Let me know!