Is Going Organic Really Better for You?

One option is frozen organic produce. It's picked and frozen usually on the same day, and the nutrients really hold. Just remember to forget the stuff that's packed in "butter sauce" and like that. It runs up your calories and your food bill -- those "enhancements" take labor and costly packaging.

Budget accordingly. Organic produce, milk and meat are usually much more expensive. It's getting a little better, though. Even Wal-Mart now sells organic produce, so that tells you that organic is no longer a fringe movement and is now part of mainstream America. Even most large supermarkets have an organic section.

Organic for All?

Should all of America go organic? Well, we couldn't, even if we all wanted to.

We probably wouldn't be able to feed as many people as we do if we limited ourselves to growing only organic food because organic farming often yields less per acre and it's labor intensive. Farm land is shrinking (not really, but it's becoming land for condominiums), and we have to get more out of every acre.

From the scientific perspective, here's what I tell my patients, most of whom have neither access to organic food nor the money to purchase it: There is a mountain of support for eating more fruit and vegetables. The benefits are very clear, and the solid science is absolutely overwhelming.

Diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with better heart health, lower risk of diabetes, several cancers and stroke, lower blood pressure, the list goes on and on.

The research that demonstrated these benefits looked at consumption of conventional produce, not organic. So relax; traditionally grown fruits and vegetables are quite healthful, and there's plenty of research to prove it.

Your biggest risk? Avoiding eating fruits and vegetables just because you can't get organic. That would be a mistake, and down the road it could cost you big.

True, this latest study on the higher flavonoid level of organic tomatoes is important.

Then again, we're eating only about half the fruit and vegetables we should, so if we ate nonorganic produce but ate the amounts we should, we'd be getting a whole lot more antioxidants and other good stuff than we do now, for sure.

Tips for Going Organic

On the environmental front, if you rally want to do the max, here are a few hints:

Buy locally whenever you can.

Buy seasonally. No sense buying raspberries in January, when they have to be trucked in from Chile. They don't taste as good, and it takes a lot of oil to get them here. On the other hand, eat a lot of them when they are in season.

Hit the farmers' markets. Most major cities have them, and they're worth a trip. They can be educational for kids, too, and you'll get to meet the people who grow your food. Can't do better than that.

If you can get local food that's also organic and at a reasonable price, congratulations -- you hit the trifecta.

Grow something. If you have a backyard, it's easier than you think. In a sunny spot, tomatoes are a snap. Plant some collards or other greens, and you'll have something from the garden from summer through the fall. Besides, to get your kids to eat something, give them a hand at growing it. They're way more invested and more likely to taste what they helped to grow.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

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