Food & Fitness After 50: Conventional or Organic Produce for Good Health?

I am a failed vegetable gardener. Like many, I long for home grown tomatoes, lush green peppers, juicy melons, and a variety of squash in all shapes and colors. And, of course, I thought I could grow anything with just water, sunlight, and little love. I have a designated space with plenty of sun and amended soil to counter the hard, red Georgia clay. But, the deer ate everything, no matter what home remedy I tried or how many tubs of deer repellent I spread around the garden. Then, we caged the whole garden so it looked like a small prison compound, minus the razor-wire at the top of the enclosure. I was so excited that the deer would stay out that I forgot that pests could find a way in. I learned about the tomato horn worm; an ugly/beautiful creature that stripped the leaves off all my plants overnight! Here is a photo I took of the little bugger if you’ve never seen one!  (My niece Erin said, “Since the deer couldn’t get in, they sent their friends to feast!”)tomato hornworm

So, what does this have to do with the title of this post? Many of the adults I talk to about  Food & Fitness After 50 ask about organic produce; or I should say, are convinced that organic produce is the key to good health and that conventional produce grown with the use of pesticides is the cause of poor nutrition and contributes to chronic disease. So, let’s set the record straight with a little quiz.

  • According to a recent United States Department of Agriculture Report on pesticide residues, what percent of domestic food samples were found to be in compliance (meaning levels of residues below any levels that could have a health effect)?

50%, 78%, or 99%?

The answer is 99%. What’s more, 53% of all domestic samples and 51% of all imported foods samples analyzed had NO detectable levels of pesticides.

  • Organic farmers do not use pesticides.

True or False?

The answer is false; organic farmers can use natural pesticides and some synthetic pesticides. But, remember that natural doesn’t mean safe, non-toxic, or chemical-free. All pesticides, natural and synthetic, undergo rigorous testing for safety by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Organic is a production term; not a health claim for quality, nutrition, or safety of our fruits and veggies.

  • When shopping at the local farmer’s market, the claim is made that the produce is “pesticide-free.” What should you ask the farmer?

According to Safe fruits and veggies, a website about the safety of organic and convention produce, ask the farmer what he or she does to control pests, because as we all know, insects in the garden have to be controlled in some way. Click here for a handy guide on food safety at farmer’s markets.

  • You should wash produce under running water before eating.

True or False?

True, washing produce with cold or warm tap water and scrubbing with a brush, when feasible, can remove pesticide residues (but remember, most produce has negligible amounts of residues), but can also remove dirt or bacteria that may have come from the fields. Removing outer leaves of cabbage or lettuces is also recommended. Don’t use soap when washing fruit or veggies, just plain tap water is all that is needed.

  • How many servings of blueberries could a woman consume in one day without any effect even if the blueberries have the highest pesticide residues ever recorded by the USDA?

10 servings, 87 servings, 100 servings, greater than 13,000 servings?

mobile-previewThe answer is 13,228 servings in one day! Try the pesticide residue calculator for yourself to assure that eating conventional produce is not swimming in harmful chemicals!


The bottom line is that we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables without fear. If you can afford organic and you like the taste, go for it. But, if cost is a factor, don’t let fears keep you from eating conventional fruits and veggies from your grocery store.

As Paracelsus (a scientist from the late 1400s) so wisely said, the dose makes the poison!paracelsus-scientist-quote-poison-is-in-everything-and-no-thing-is