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Does Eating Organic Reduce Cancer Risk?

A recent study claims to confirm what a lot of people felt they already knew: eating organic can reduce your risk of getting cancer. But a closer look at the details reveals a different story. 

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
6-minute read
Episode #506
cancer risk by organic food score

Then again, when you consider how the organic food score was derived, it makes sense that the relationship between that score and cancer risk would be all over the place. Because asking people how often they buy organic wine or coffee is not a very effective way to assess their dietary pesticide exposure.

To their credit, the researchers also calculated a simplified score based only on the six categories of foods that represent the major sources of dietary pesticide exposure: fruits, vegetables, soy-based products, grains and legumes, breads and cereals, and flour. Unfortunately, the results of this secondary analysis were just as problematic; those with higher organic scores (suggesting lower pesticide exposure) frequently had much greater risk than those with lower scores.

The Bottom Line

Despite the hoopla and headlines that accompanied this study, I don’t think these results make a very strong case that eating organic reduces your cancer risk. The best evidence to date indicates that eating fruits and vegetables is (mildly) protective, irrespective of whether they are conventional or organic.

There may be other good reasons to buy organic produce, such as reducing the amount of synthetic pesticides that wildlife and agricultural workers are exposed to or supporting your local organic farmer. By all means, choose organic when it’s available, affordable, and as fresh as the conventional options. Just promise me that you won’t limit your intake of fruits and vegetables due to concerns over pesticides. If you’re worried about your cancer risk, that energy would be far better spent pursuing a healthy body weight and an active lifestyle.

In the Nutrition Diva archives, I have episodes on the five most important things you can do to reduce your cancer risk, as well as tips on how to reduce your exposure to pesticides. And if you have questions or comments about today’s episode, I’d love to hear from you. You can post those below or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.