Athletes and Organic Foods

Some athletes mistakenly think that organic foods are more nutritious than foods that are not produced organically. Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating, dispels some of the myths associated with organically produced foods.

“The term organic doesn’t describe how nutritious a food is,” says Kleiner. “The definition of organic in a nutrition context refers to food that has been produced, stored, processed or packaged without the use of synthetic substances for a certain period of time.”

The argument that organic foods are more nutritious and pose fewer health risks for athletes than substances associated with pesticide treatment does not hold up, according to Kleiner. The nutrients in natural fertilizers are the same as those found in factory-made chemical fertilizers. Some studies have found similar pesticide levels in both organically and conventionally grown foods.

Organic foods that are grown according to state standards can be contaminated by run-off water, shifting soil and pesticides transported through the air. Even the freshness of organic food is questionable because the production and distribution systems are generally not as sophisticated as the systems for conventional foods. Whenever there is a delay in the time needed to get food from the fields to markets, nutrient loss is possible.

Why Bother?

If organic foods are not necessarily safer or better for you, why bother with them? Because growing foods by using natural methods is good for the environment. It makes sense to limit the amount of pesticide treatment in the foods we eat, but demanding organically produced foods is a political and environmental issue more than a nutritional one.

There are ways, says Kleiner, to buy conventionally produced fruits and vegetables and reduce the amount of synthetic chemicals that may remain on or in them. Here are some of her suggestions:

Use water to rinse and a brush to scrub fresh produce.
Don’t bite into an orange or grapefruit peel to remove it. Use a knife, instead.
Remove the outer leaves of vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
Peel waxed fruits and vegetables to remove pesticides that may have been sealed in.
Remove the peels from vegetables such as carrots and fruits such as apples when there is a concern, but be aware that peeling also removes some fiber, vitamins and minerals.

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