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Organic and Chemical-Free Foods - Overview

What do you need to know about organic food?

More and more organic foods are showing up in the produce aisles of local grocery stores. It can be confusing to know when to buy organic versions of your favorite foods. Many people buy organic food because they are worried about the environment. And many people buy organic food to avoid chemicals, especially pesticides, in their food.

You may have these questions about organic food:

  • Is it safer? Foods with the organic label have much less pesticide residue compared with most nonorganic foods. Foods grown with pesticides can have small amounts of pesticide left on the food when it gets to the store. Studies have shown that being exposed to large amounts of pesticides can cause harm. But they have not shown that the amounts of pesticides left on most nonorganic foods are enough to cause harm.
  • Is it more nutritious? There is not enough evidence to say that organic food is more nutritious than nonorganic food.
  • Is it better for children? Children may be more sensitive than adults to pesticides and other chemicals because they are still growing. And they eat more food for their weight than adults do. Products such as organic milk and organic baby food can be good choices for your peace of mind.
  • Does it taste better? There is no evidence that organic food tastes better just because it's organic. But organic food is usually fresher, because it doesn't contain preservatives and it needs to be eaten sooner. Fresher food usually tastes better.
  • Is it better for the environment? In general, yes. Many organic farmers and ranchers work to conserve water and soil. Pesticides can kill birds and small animals and make it hard for them to reproduce, so using less of these toxic chemicals is good for the environment.
  • Is it better for animals? Usually, but conditions vary. For example, organic ranchers must let their cattle graze in open pastures. But some ranchers do that only part of the time, confining the animals to corrals the rest of the time. Most chickens raised on conventional farms live in crowded conditions, so they are given antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Organic chickens can't be given antibiotics, so they are provided with more living space and access to the outdoors.

Is buying organic the only way to avoid chemicals?

You can avoid pesticides by buying only organic food. Or you could buy organic versions of only the foods you eat most often or of only those foods that have the most pesticides when grown on traditional farms.

The following fruits and vegetables generally have the highest pesticide levels:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries and blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Green beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and kale

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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