Like many consumers, I have a goal when I enter the grocery store: buy healthy foods without breaking the bank. For the most part, choosing nutritious foods is easy. I stock up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nonfat dairy products. But there is one gray area: organic.
Organic foods often cost a good bit more than their conventional counterparts. But are organic products really better for you? And are they really worth the higher price tag? These are questions I ask myself on every grocery store trip.
What Does “Organic” Mean?
Organic foods are made without using conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. The word “organic” means that the product has met certain standards set by the USDA:
100% organic: The food has no artificial ingredients, and can use the organic seal
Organic: The food has at least 95 percent organic ingredients, and can use the organic seal.
Made with organic ingredients: The food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, but it cannot use the organic seal.
Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy with the organic label come from animals that have not received antibiotics or growth hormones.
Farms must meet USDA criteria before they can become certified organic growers. Not all farmers can afford this certification, though. Organic farming practices are more expensive, which is why organic foods come with a higher price tag. If you have any questions about a local farm’s practice, talk to the farmer. He or she can give you more details than any label can.
Better For Health?
Some experts believe that consuming organic foods instead of conventional foods may be healthier, but the results are inconclusive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “makes no claims that organic food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced foods.”
A large study looked at scientific articles from the past 50 years and compared the nutrient content of organic vs. conventional foods. The researchers found that both organic and conventional products were comparable when it comes to nutrition. And just this month, a Stanford study concluded that eating organic foods over conventional products offers little to no health benefits.
As far as pesticides go, keep in mind that all organic and conventional foods sold in the U.S. don’t exceed government safety thresholds. This means that eating foods grown with pesticides shouldn’t harm your health. Just be sure to rinse all produce under running water before eating it.
Should I Go Organic?
The decision to buy organic foods is a personal one. Know that there’s more to having good nutrition than buying organic or not. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables — whether they be conventional or organic — instead of processed foods is a great way to enhance your health.
If you’re thinking about going organic, the “dirty dozen” is a good place to start. The Environmental Working Group encourages people to choose the organic versions of fruits and vegetables in the dirty dozen because produce on this list has the highest amount of pesticide residue: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries and potatoes.
You can save money on organic products by shopping at local farmers’ markets. Produce and other goods at farmers’ markets tend to cost less than food sold in grocery stores. Eating foods when they are in season in your area can also save money.
Do you buy organic? Why or why not? I’m going to start opting for organic when it comes to the dirty dozen.