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Q
Cutting Corners on Organic Cost?

I know that blueberries are very good for you, but the cost of organic is two to three times that of conventional. I don't see blueberries on the list of most contaminated fruit. How bad is it to eat non-organic berries?

A
Answer (Published 2/21/2008)

Blueberries are packed with nutritional power. The pigments (anthocyanins) that make them blue are potent antioxidants. The berries are also a healthy low glycemic-index carbohydrate, a good source of vitamin C and fiber (two grams per one-half cup serving) and of ellagic acid, a natural compound that inhibits tumor growth in laboratory mice. Like cranberries, blueberries contain a substance that can help prevent urinary tract infections by interfering with the attachment of bacteria to the bladder wall.

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While conventionally grown blueberries rank toward the low end of the Environmental Working Group's list of fruits and vegetables (available at www.ewg.org/sites/foodnews) that carry the greatest pesticide load, I would avoid them if I were you. In general, I suggest that when organically grown fruits and vegetables don't fit your food budget, you avoid the items that are most heavily contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals used on crops, and stick to those that are least likely to be contaminated (check the Web site above for the list). Regardless of where blueberries now fall on the list, after having talked with growers in Massachusetts, Michigan, and British Columbia, I am not reassured about the use of pesticides on conventionally grown blueberries. If you can't afford to buy organic ones, consider other fruits and vegetables that provide many of the same health benefits. Purple grapes, red cabbage, beets and plums all contain anthocyanins.

While I realize that organic fruits and vegetables can be costly, consider what you pay for other types of food before rejecting organic blueberries as too expensive. For example, their cost per pound may be quite reasonable when compared to that of some snack foods and some prepared foods. And, they're much better for you.

You also might consider how to gain access to affordable organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Three options include joining a food cooperative and participating in neighborhood gardens, or community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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