Organic food was once difficult to find, but today it can be easily found at most grocery stores. As shoppers stand in the produce section of their grocery store they often struggle with the decision: conventional or organic?
What does “organic” mean?
Organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation.
Organic farming promotes soil and water conservation and reduces pollution.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed.
Is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?
There’s not conclusive research to show that organic food is more nutritious. Research shows that organic and conventional vegetables offer similar nutrients. Organic foods may contain higher levels of antioxidants, while traditional produce may contain more protein.
It’s tough to measure levels of nutrition, since nutrients can vary greatly from one plant to another. Genetics, weather, ripeness, and age can all play a part in determining how nutritious any particular piece of produce is.
There have been a number of studies examining potential links between organic foods and a variety of health outcomes. More research is being done.
Are pesticides dangerous?
Levels of pesticide residue on conventionally grown food is regulated by federal regulations. Washing produce limits your exposure even more, but no method is 100% effective for removing pesticide residue.
Remember these tidbits on washing the fruits and veggies:
- Water is just as effective as specialty cleaning products
- Washing under running water is better than dunking produce
- Peel or scrub with a soft brush for things like potatoes
- Rub soft items like peaches
- Peel waxed produce
Even if pesticides aren’t dangerous, organic farming is better for the environment.
How do I know if something is organic?
When choosing to buy organic, it is helpful to look for the following USDA regulated terms on food labels:
- 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
- Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients and can display USDA organic seal
- Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
Fruits and vegetables are either grown organically or not, so the organic ones always fall into the 100% organic category.
Meats, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled “organic” must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.
Are there downsides to buying organic?
One common concern with organic food is price. Organic foods typically cost more than do their conventional counterparts. Higher prices are mostly attributable to more costly farming practices.
Because organic fruits and vegetables aren’t treated with preservatives, they may not last as long because they spoil faster.
Some organic produce may be smaller in size and not look as perfect.
It’s your decision
Although there is not consistent proof that organic foods are better for adults’ health than conventional foods, some choose to limit their exposure to potential pesticide residues. A helpful resource when deciding to choose more organic produce is to use the “Dirty Dozen” list. This shopper’s guide from the EWG explains which fruits and vegetables are most vulnerable pesticides. There are lots of reasons to go organic.
Keep in mind that eating any fruit or vegetable is better than not eating fruits or vegetables simply because they are not organic. Research studies have shown that the more fruits and vegetables a person eats, the lower his or her risk of cancer and other diseases.
Another option for your fresh fruits and vegetables is to buy local. Local foods tend to be higher in nutrients because they are picked fresh and sold to you soon after picking. Consider planting a garden and growing your own supply of fruits & vegetables. You can find your local farmer’s market.
Whether you decide to buy organic or not, be sure to enjoy a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables!