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Is Organic Really Better, and Other Nutrition Questions

By Expert Blogger
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We continue to receive more questions every day at Ask Dr. Mao. Here are some answers to your recent questions about nutrition.

1. Organic vs. Non-organic: Is it necessary to eat organic food?
While organic is always a nutritious choice, it is not always possible to buy organic. The primary reason for buying organics is that you want wholesome, nutrient-rich food that isn't covered in dangerous pesticides and other chemicals. Even the food that is grown below ground or have peels are not always safe from pesticides.

• If you have to make a choice, these fruits and vegetables test the worst, so buy organic: apples, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherries, grapes (imported), kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, and strawberries.

• When tested, these have the least amount of pesticides: avocados, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples, sweet corn, sweet peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and watermelon.

2. Does peeling or washing fruits and vegetables help remove the pesticide?
Peeling helps reduce pesticides, but you lose valuable nutrients when the skin is discarded. Rinsing helps, but does not eliminate surface pesticides and residues of chemicals completely. Here is a effective method for washing produce: soak veggies and fruits in a large pot of cold water for 5 minutes, add a tablespoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of vinegar, then use a colander to rinse under running water for several minutes. You can also use a small amount of dish washing liquid in water and rinse well. For fragile produce that shouldn’t be scrubbed, simply soak it in salt and vinegar for 5 minutes and then rinse thoroughly.

Your best approach is to eat a varied diet, rinse all of your produce, and buy organic when possible.

3. Does dried fruit have less nutrition than whole fruit?
In general, when you dry a food, you are taking the water content out and dehydrating it. You don’t necessarily destroy the nutrients, although in fruits, certain vitamins are fragile. Vitamin C, for instance, is fragile, so it may be destroyed. That is why fruits are generally better fresh. Dried food is nearly as beneficial, though you end up eating a higher quantity of dried food than you would the actual fresh food. For example, you might eat five to seven dried apricot pieces in one sitting, but you most likely wouldn’t be eating the same amount of fresh apricots.

4. Do you lose nutritional value when you freeze food?
In general, freezing food doesn’t lessen nutritional value if you freeze the food when it is at peak quality. For example, if berries are flash frozen right at picking, there’s very little loss of nutrients. In fact, nutrients are better retained in frozen fruits and vegetables than in those that are transported long distances to their destination. Produce actually begins to lose valuable vitamins and minerals soon after picking, especially at room temperature and above. Freezing a few hours after harvesting can help prevent this. It is only when food is stored and sits for a long period of time that it starts to lose nutritional values of the vitamins, especially the B and C Vitamins.

5. You say water should not be stored in plastic. What about the regular-brand bottled water we buy? We need bottled water to use outside of our homes.
The reason that I do not suggest storing water in plastic bottles is that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in plastic containers leach into the water. A word about water safety: Many reports have surfaced that indicate the hazards of tap water. Is bottled water any safer than tap water? Tests have discovered that some bottled waters contained more chlorine by-products than surface and ground waters. And the pesticides, herbicides, and pharmaceuticals that are found in household tap water are appearing in bottled water with alarming frequency.

And all those plastic bottles piling up in landfills aren’t good for our planet. If you want to have water on the go, whenever possible, I suggest you use filtered water in a reusable thermos.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

Add a Comment3 Comments

Great thorough information! I especially enjoyed the breakdown of which foods are really best bought organic, and which ones didn't test so high for pesticides. Many more of us are starting to carry Sig (metal) bottles and our plastic reusable thermoses with water...but, how quickly does the water in these reusable bottles absorb substances from them? These are still plastic and metal containers, after all...
- Anna M

July 22, 2009 - 7:50am
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you so much for your endorsement of organic. The Organic Trade Association (OTA) would like to let your readers know that there is mounting evidence that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and less exposure to nitrates and pesticide residues than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. See http://www.ota.com/organic/benefits/nutrition.html for a list of studies affirming these findings.

OTA would also like to encourage your readers to consider choosing organic versions of the products they buy most, instead of limiting their organic purchases to the products listed in this blog. While establishing such limits may help to reduce the size of your personal food budget, it misses an important point: buying organic is about more than keeping pesticides out of our bodies. It is about supporting a system of sustainable agricultural management that promotes soil health and fertility through the use of such methods as crop rotation and cover cropping, which nourish plants, foster species diversity, help combat climate change, prevent damage to valuable water resources, and protect farmers and farmers’ families from exposure to harmful chemicals. In this sense, buying organic is a commitment to the bigger, more complex picture of which our personal health is a part.

July 22, 2009 - 6:44am
EmpowHER Guest

This was a great and informative article, thank you!

July 18, 2009 - 10:25pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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