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Organic Foods

Posted 6/23/2014

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  The question about whether or not to eat organic foods comes up frequently. Many of us who are concerned about healthy eating have pondered this extra expense vs. value choice for some time, and a cancer diagnosis often exacerbates the concern. Is it worth the extra money to buy those beautiful organic carrots? Or is it really fine to make sure we wash our fruits and vegetables and, perhaps, think more about buying locally sourced food.

  With this in mind, I am delighted to post this guest blog from Jessica Burch, a dietetic intern here at BIDMC.

Whether or not patients undergoing or recovering from cancer and its treatments should stick to a strictly organic diet is a question that is often posed to medical providers. Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry answer. Concerns around the potential effects of food additives allowed in non-organic foods as well as the nutrient density of organic versus non-organic foods lay at the foundation of this question.

The USDA requires that foods labeled as organic be produced without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. They also exclude foods that have been genetically modified and or irradiated. It is possible that the chemicals allowed in conventional food production are carcinogenic, however, substantial research is still required for confirmation.

It is also unclear if a difference in nutrient density exists between organic and non-organic foods. Numerous studies have explored this question. Some have concluded that there is a significant difference, while others have suggested that there is none at all. This is certainly not doing a whole lot to help us find that “yes” or “no” answer we have been looking for.

At the end of the day what we do know is that fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins are essential for optimal health and recovery. If choosing organic is a possibility for you, then by all means do so. If it is not, however, we have no reason to believe that you are at a greater risk.

We do want you to be making healthy life style choices with a particular focus on fruit and vegetable consumption. The American Cancer Society recommends consuming 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. This will provide you with fiber, vitamins, minerals and a wide array of phytonutrients.

Each color of fruit or vegetable will provide you with a different set of these important nutrients, so, as silly as it may sound, it is important to try and eat the rainbow everyday. In the winter months this can be a little bit harder, but when you can’t get fresh, opt for frozen choices as they persevere all the same nutrients (and often at a better price). Then when the weather warms up and the buds are all bursting fill up on summer’s freshness! You can visit your farmer’s market to sample the best picks of the season and support a local farmer too. Check out to find a market near you or visit the Beth Israel Deaconess farmer’s market Wednesdays from 12 to 3:30 in the Kirstein parking lot.

Jessica Burch
Dietetic Intern
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Ave.
Boston, MA 02215


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