So, you hear organic food beats conventional? But, are you sure it’s actually healthier? Do you get more nutrients from organic foods? How about the doubled price tag? Decide for yourself in this organic vs conventional article that sheds light on common questions.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines organic [food] products that meet these requirements (2):
- Produced without using “excluded methods” (e.g. genetic modification). Organic means without genetic modification (GMO) (3).
- Produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (4). Interestingly, even synthetic products are allowed in organic farming.
- Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program authorized certifying agent, following USDA organic regulations.
Although the USDA specifies with definitions and certifications, farmers use organic practices that far exceed the minimum requirements set by the USDA. Thus, knowing the farmer growing your food means safety for your family. (Score one for the organic vs conventional).
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Top Questions Answered:
Do organic foods have more nutrients than conventionally raised foods?
In short, not necessarily. The evidence varies regarding the nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods. Nutrient levels in foods depend on the quality and nutrient levels in the soil.
Stanford researchers in 2012 concluded that organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious than conventional foods (5). This was based on the idea that nutrient levels in organic vs conventionally raised foods are not much different. However, the response by integrative and functional healthcare professionals (and even pediatricians) (6) was, “that’s not really the point!” They became outraged because, although nutrient levels may be comparable, organic foods have lower amounts of pesticide residues. These affect humans (especially children) and the environment.
If organic foods are not any healthier, why would I spend more money on them?
Synthetic pesticides and herbicides (glyphosate or “Round Up”) used on conventional (non-organic) crops are called “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs) (7). EDCs are compounds that affect the way our hormones act. This means these chemicals mess with our metabolism. Not good.
Thus, one of the best ways to avoid exposure to synthetic EDCs (pesticides) is to buy foods not sprayed with them: organic foods.
How can you minimize your risk of exposure to pesticides?
- Grow your own: Even though the USDA defines and regulates the term, “organic,” there are other ways to find foods produced without the use of synthetic pesticides. Grow food yourself! You don’t need a huge yard to start a pot of herbs like cilantro, parsley, basil, and oregano. They’re easy to get going and you can grow them in a sunny windowsill.
- Know your farmer: There are a lot of CSAs (community supported agriculture) popping up. They give you an opportunity to buy local produce. Also, farmers markets are an obvious way to visit with the people who might grow the food.
- Wash your food: If you can’t afford all organic, remove some of the residues by washing in water and baking soda. Or buy a fruit and veggie wash, or try making your own DIY spray (8).
- Eat lean if it’s not clean: When choosing non-organic meat or poultry, find the leanest cuts of those foods. Animals’ fat tissue stores toxins. So, if the meat isn’t organic, avoid eating the fats from those foods. Purchase lean cuts in that case. If the meat is organic and pasture-raised, then enjoy the healthy fats from those foods!
If the label says “organic” does that mean it’s 100% organic?
Not necessarily. There are different labels that mean different things:
- “100% organic” means all ingredients are certified organic with organic processing. These can be labeled with the “USDA Organic” seal.
- “Organic” means all ingredients are certified organic but with up to 5% non-organic contents. These labels mark which ingredients are organic in the ingredient list or with an asterisk. These allow the “USDA Organic” seal.
- “Made with organic” means at least 70% of the product contains certified organic ingredients. These cannot be labeled with the “USDA Organic” seal.
The bottom line: Buy organic foods; it’s worth the extra cost to avoid exposure to pesticide residues. However, evidence shows that eating whole fruits and vegetables (whether organic or conventional) decreases our risk for chronic disease (9).
Check out this interview on organic MEAT!
- https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Labeling Organic Products Fact Sheet.pdf.
- Pesticide Exposure in Children. Pediatrics. 2012;130(6):e1757-e63.
- Gasnier C, Dumont C, Benachour N, Clair E, Chagnon MC, Seralini GE. Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology. 2009;262(3):184-91.
- Yang T, Doherty J, Zhao B, Kinchla AJ, Clark JM, He L. Effectiveness of Commercial and Homemade Washing Agents in Removing Pesticide Residues on and in Apples. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2017;65(44):9744-52.
- Ardisson Korat AV, Willett WC, Hu FB. Diet, lifestyle, and genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes: a review from the Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study 2, and Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study. Curr Nutr Rep. 2014;3(4):345-54.