Now that I’m over halfway through my third year of Naturopathic Medicine, I find more and more friends and family coming to me for medical advice. I absolutely love helping people, but since I cannot technically ‘treat’ anybody at this time, I always suggest some overarching lifestyle principles and refer them to an ND in their area. When I reflect on what people approach me about the most, the #2 most frequent question I get is “should I eat organic?" In case you’re curious, the #1 is “Does that mean you’re anti-vaccine because you’re going to be a Naturopath?” (FYI the answer is no, but I’m not here to spark a debate over a blog post). So back to question #2, I find this hard because the correct answer is both yes and no depending on your individual situation.
In an ideal world, everyone would be eating organic because organic would be the only option. Unfortunately, the explosion of agriculture, GMO seeds, monocropping, and our society’s demand for cheap produce and meat/dairy products means this is no longer the case. Cow don’t graze peacefully grassy fields like they do on the front of burger packages. Instead, they are confined to extremely cramped spaces, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, and fed a steady diet of corn to fatten them up. The Canadian Beef grading system is partially based on how much marbling there is in the meat (the more marbling=more fat=higher grade), it’s to their advantage to produce fatter cows.
Back to the original question, when is the answer no? Let’s say I had a patient who eats absolutely no fruits and vegetables (orange juice does NOT count) and is on a very limited budget. At this point, all I simply want the patient to add fruits and veggies into their diet, I couldn’t care less whether or not that apple is heirloom, non-GMO, organic, local or whatever you may have, just eat the apple! There are so many important nutrients and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, I would be happy if the patient reported they tried a piece of fruit for lunch and some veggies with dinner. Especially when there are financial constraints, the focus should be on eating whole, unprocessed foods; having to shell out more money for organic food can be very stressful, doing more harm than good. In this case, make sure you wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly to get rid of pesticide residues and consider using a fruit and veggie wash that can be purchased at any health food store.
When is the answer yes then? If the patient is willing and able to pay the price for organics, and interested in pursuing a cleaner lifestyle, then I would educate them on which fruits and vegetables should be purchased from the organic section. Different fruits and vegetables have varying amounts of pesticides based on how they are grown and how thick/thin their skin is. I use the Environmental Working Group (EWG) list of Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen as a guidelies. A complete list can be found here and outlines the fruits and vegetables worth the extra money and ones you can save on.
But what about meat? In my opinion, if you had to choose, I would say spend your money on organic meat, not organic produce. Antibiotics in conventional meat has been linked to reduced effectiveness of antibiotics in children, and anyone who is looking to conceive should consider avoiding conventional meats to reduce exposure to exogenous hormones and xenoestrogens. I buy most of my organic meat at Costco because it is well priced and readily available.
Does this mean I eat 100% organic? Absolutely not! Although I strive to maintain a very healthy lifestyle, it is unrealistic to think you can eat everything organic, or feel like you have to be ‘perfect’ with your diet. Instead, aim to eat 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, small amounts of organic meat, and if you can afford it, purchase the “Dirty Dozen” in the organic produce section.
As always, PM on Facebook if you have additional questions and follow my Twitter, @lauravonhagen, and Instagram account, Laura von Hagen, for more great health tips and recipe ideas. Stay tuned for my Professional Facebook and website, both will be launching in May 2016!