By Eitan Arom
For the twenty-something consumer, the word ‘organic,’ triggers an internal struggle between a desire for healthy living and skepticism of food trends.
While peer-reviewed studies can tell you what compounds you can avoid by going organic, they might not explain what the bottom line is in terms of your health. They certainly cannot tell you whether it’s worth a price premium to buy organic foods.
Here’s what we do know: if you eat non-organic goods, you are eating pesticides. The evidence is in your pee.
To prove that point, Swedish grocery chain Coop Svierge AB took a family of five off of conventional products and stocked their kitchen with solely organic food. Researchers took urine samples both before and after the switch and documented in the study.
As the adorable toddler and sleek, animated graphics in this video clearly demonstrate, the results were significant:
Movie magic aside, the independent research group that conducted the study at the grocer’s request found that concentrations of pesticide residues decreased on average by a factor of 6.7 when the five family members consistently ate organic food. Children, in particular, had the lower concentrations in their urine after the organic food consumption period. For the adults, not all pesticide levels fell, but most did.
A 2014 study published in the journal Environmental Research also found a decrease in pesticide levels in urine samples from 13 Australian adults who switched to organic food. (Although the researchers noted, “larger scale studies in different populations are required to confirm these findings.”)
THE WRITING ON THE BATHROOM WALL
Pesticides are present in non-organic food and much less so in organic products. But the more important question, of course, is whether that matters for human health.
That question, however, is a bit complicated. For one, people who buy organic food alsosmoke less, eat more fruits and vegetables, and exercise more, so a simple population study won’t quite do the trick.
FRUIT FLIES DON’T HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM.
In 2013, high school wunderkind Ria Chhabra made headlines by putting fruit flies on organic and non-organic diets. Her research, published in a peer-reviewed journal with the teenager as first author, found greater stress resilience, fertility, and longevity in the organic-fed fruit flies.
The study pointed to higher levels of protein and unsaturated fatty acids in organic dairy and more antioxidants in organic produce.
Given that there’s something going on here—in other words, that organic foods are better for you in one way or another than conventional foods—the issue then becomes what kind of price you are willing to pay for that benefit.
HOW MUCH IS YOUR HEALTH WORTH TO YOU?
If I offer you two potatoes, and tell you that one is twice the cost but will yield an unspecified benefit some time in the future, which one would you choose?
The price of organic potatoes in San Francisco, calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are more than double the price of conventionally grown potatoes. That breaks down to a price difference of about 40 cents per pound.
That means that if you consume only organic potatoes for a year, then you are paying, on average, a premium of more than $40. Not a whole lot, right? Until you consider that the average American consumes 110 pounds of potatoes per year, according to the Northern Plains Potato Growers Association.
Multiply the cost by your expected lifespan (perhaps higher than average if you’re buying organic food) and it starts to add up. The price data shows that organic fruits and vegetables cost significantly more across the board.
So when it comes down to it, a potent combination of skepticism and price sensitivity might reasonably send you looking for other health options.
Chhabra also suggests that “washed conventional produce may be a good alternative to the more expensive and less accessible organic foods.”
WHAT FRUITS OR VEGETABLES SHOULD YOU BUY ORGANIC?
If you’re not ready to commit to an all-organic diet—which might not even be possible at your local grocery stores—there are choices you can make to reduce your pesticide risk and benefit from organic foods.
The public health advocacy group Environmental Working Group publishes an annual “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen,” describing the fruits and veggies that are the least and most important to buy organic.
One takeaway: avoid conventional grapes and sweet bell peppers, each apparentlycontain 15 different pesticides.
The produce items that are least important to buy organic by EWG’s estimation tend to be ones you can peel or shuck—avocadoes, sweet corn and pineapples take the top three spots.
This post originally appeared on ATTN.com, viewable here.