Organic food: Is it more nutritious?
The answer isn't yet clear. A recent study examined the past 50 years' worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods. The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are comparable in their nutrient content. Research in this area is ongoing.
Organic food: Other considerations
Many factors influence the decision to choose organic food. Some people choose organic food because they prefer the taste. Yet others opt for organic because of concerns such as:
- Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. According to the USDA, organic produce carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don't exceed government safety thresholds.
- Food additives. Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
- Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.
Are there downsides to buying organic?
One common concern with organic food is cost. Organic foods typically cost more than do their conventional counterparts. Higher prices are due, in part, to more expensive farming practices.
Because organic fruits and vegetables aren't treated with waxes or preservatives, they may spoil faster. Also, some organic produce may look less than perfect — odd shapes, varying colors or smaller sizes. However, organic foods must meet the same quality and safety standards as those of conventional foods.
Food safety tips
Whether you go totally organic or opt to mix conventional and organic foods, be sure to keep these tips in mind:
Sep. 07, 2012
- Select a variety of foods from a variety of sources. This will give you a better mix of nutrients and reduce your likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season when possible. To get the freshest produce, ask your grocer what day new produce arrives. Or check your local farmers market.
- Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it's organic or contains organic ingredients doesn't necessarily mean it's a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
- Wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Washing helps remove dirt, bacteria and traces of chemicals from the surface of fruits and vegetables. Not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing, though. You can also peel fruits and vegetables, but peeling can mean losing some fiber and nutrients.
See more In-depth
- Organic production and handling standards. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004445&acct=nopgeninfo. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Organic labeling and marketing information. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446&acct=nopgeninfo. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Pesticide and food: Healthy, sensible food practices. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food/tips.htm. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Are there fewer pesticide residues on organic foods than on conventionally grown foods? U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/faq/BuyOrganicFoodsC.shtml. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Can I make a label bearing both organic and natural claims? U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://askfsis.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/85. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Dangour AD, et al. Nutrition-related health effects of organic foods: A systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;92:203.
- Are organic foods more environmentally friendly than non-organic foods? U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/faq/BuyOrganicFoodsD.shtml. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Shopper's guide to pesticides. Environmental Working Group. http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Advising consumers about organic foods and healthful eating. American Dietetic Association. http://www.eatright.org/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=10595. Accessed May 18, 2011.
- Safety tips for fresh fruits and vegetables. American Dietetic Association. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442462192&terms=fresh. Accessed May 19, 2011.
- Pesticides and food: What 'organically grown' means. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/food/organics.htm. Accessed Aug. 31, 2012.
- Organic herbicide update. ? U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/publications.htm?seq_no_115=235410. Accessed Aug. 31, 2012.