By Lauren Procopio, ND

Everyone knows it’s important to eat well. Many of us have a pretty good idea what that means, Fruits and Veggies, Lean meats. Cut down on the fat and sugar. Here in Seattle, grocery stores offer us an important choice: conventional food or organic.

So, what’s the difference between the two? How do you decide what to buy? What’s the difference in how they affect our health? These are the questions that Natural Medicine of Seattle will strive to answer.

Two Key Differences Between Conventional and Organic for Your Health

When comparing an organic apple and a conventional apple, the first thing that might pop out at you is the price. Organic food is often more expensive than conventional food for items of equal size or weight. Usually when something costs more it means you’re getting more, right? Not in this case.

When you buy an organic apple you are actually paying NOT to have something in it—Pesticides. Conventional fruits and vegetables are often sprayed with pesticides. When you buy produce these stubborn chemicals remain on the food.

The second big difference between conventional and organic food is that many conventional foods are genetically modified or contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This means that genes from something else, (a fish for example), are spliced into the DNA of a totally different organism (a strawberry) to give the food a new property (firmness and anti-spoilage). Sounds like it could be beneficial, right? 

The problem is that scientists don’t fully know the implications of changing the genetic code of foods or how this will affect the consumer.

The Key Foods to Buy Organic

Once you decide you’d prefer to limit your pesticide and GMO exposure, the next step is figuring out how to make it work within your budget. Most of us can’t afford to buy all organic all the time. So how do you know which foods are most important to buy organic, and which foods are safe to buy conventional? 

At Natural Medicine of Seattle, our favorite guideline is the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, an annual report put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Updated for 2013, the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide is a great tool to help you navigate the grocery store. The Dirty Dozen lists 12 foods that are the most important to buy organic. The Clean 15 lists fifteen foods that are, for the most part, okay to buy conventional. They contain the fewest harmful chemicals. This guide can be a real life-saver! 

The Toxic Effects of Conventionally Grown Food

Scientifically, the long term effects of eating GMO foods are unclear. The effect of pesticide exposure, however, is a well known health risk. Pesticides are designed to kill insects that might otherwise damage crops, but the effect on humans can be equally damaging. 

Pesticides are neurotoxic, which means that they harm nerve cells and nervous tissue in the body, including the brain and sensory organ functions such as smell, taste, hearing, and touch. Pesticides are especially damaging to developing nerve tissue, such as in the fetus. Additionally, some pesticides increase the risk of certain types of cancers. 

This all sounds really bad, but it gets even worse. Pesticides are also fat-soluble compounds, meaning that once you are exposed, they get stored in your body and are incredibly difficult to get out! Exposure over time causes amounts of these chemicals to accumulate in your body, creating an amplified effect. So, from a health care standpoint, the best thing to do is avoid them as much as possible.

Deciding which foods to buy can seem like a challenge to your pocketbook, but if you have the right tools and knowledge, trips to the grocery store can become empowering, fun experiences. 

So check out the EWG Shopper’s Guide when you make your next grocery list, and continue to follow our blog. We’ll have frequent updates with health news and interesting articles about health issues and questions that directly affect you and your family.

From Natural Medicine of Seattle, we wish you good health and good luck navigating those Seattle grocery stores and farmer’s markets!

Get your free 15 minute introductory session with our naturopathic physicians by calling us at 206.535.7527