Erin Lopynski, RD, is a registered dietitian at Inova Well.

The holidays are full of choices. Pumpkin spice latte or peppermint mocha? Pecan pie or apple? Eggnog or hot toddy?

But for many savvy food consumers, there’s a bigger question to ponder: Should your foods (festive or otherwise) be organic? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of eating organic — on holidays and every day.

Organic Food and Health

Organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines that address factors such as additives, soil quality, pest and weed control, and animal-raising practices. Many people choose to eat organic because it’s more environmentally friendly. Fewer pesticides and weed killers means less pollution in water and throughout our natural environment — a good thing for wildlife.

But what about your health? As a clinical dietitian working with clients who have illnesses that cause food sensitivities and gastrointestinal problems, I’ve found that many people are sensitive to preservatives and chemicals in food.

Often, my clients don’t realize that many of their symptoms are related to the food they eat. And many are able to find symptom relief by choosing organic, since organic standards ban some of those ingredients (such as certain artificial food colors and preservatives).

Which Organic Foods to Choose

Whenever possible, I recommend choosing organic produce and meats, as well as wild-caught fish. If we eat mostly conventionally grown foods, we expose ourselves to growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. A healthy body may be able to tolerate these chemicals for a while. But eventually, these substances could cause problems.

Of course, organic foods usually cost more. If your budget doesn’t allow you to go completely organic, a little research can help you choose wisely. The Environmental Working Group publishes food guides to help identify which produce items have the most pesticides applied to them and which have the least, so you can prioritize your shopping. According to their latest data, strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and hot peppers are the fruits and veggies with the most pesticides.

Organic for the Holidays

While I favor many organic options, that’s not the only factor to consider when designing a healthy diet. It’s important to eat a balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, even if some of them are conventionally grown.

Choosing organic can be particularly tricky during the holidays, when you’re going to parties and sharing meals with others. If you’re doing the cooking, aim to strike a happy balance between organic foods and their conventionally grown counterparts. But try not to stress if a friend or family member is serving non-organic food.
Your lifestyle matters, but one meal will not make or break your health. It’s more important to enjoy your food and a meal shared with loved ones — especially a meal served in the holiday spirit.

Hear Erin discuss healthy holiday eating, check out our Facebook Live conversation from December 5.

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