How often have you walked through the produce section and thought about whether organic options are worth the price hike? You are not alone; many consumers feel the organic label might simply be a marketing play to improve sales.
That said, there are some differences between organic and non-organic produce. The real question is whether those differences are nutritionally necessary or result in any real benefit to the consumer.
Certified Organic Definition and Merit
If you eat organic because you fear pesticides, you want to look for produce that is USDA Organic. A USDA certification requires growers to follow specific rules, such as:
No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides
Farming techniques must be natural and chemical-free
Growers must use organic seeds
Farms must be free of prohibited substances
Farming practices cannot harm insects, animals, land, or water
The strict guidelines of the USDA mean that organic produce contains fewer pesticides, but it doesn't mean it is free of all pesticides. Still, if it is a fear, USDA Organic items have fewer pesticides than conventionally grown produce.
Nutrient Density of Organic Produce Versus Standard Produce
While many people and growers will try to convince you that organic produce is more nutritious than conventionally grown produce, research does not support the claim. According to one analysis of over 300 studies conducted by Stanford University, organic and nonorganic produce have similar nutrient levels. Another analysis found that organic produce contains higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.
Pesticide Exposure of Produce and the Benefits of Organic Options
Even if organic and nonorganic produce are similar nutritionally, isn't the use of pesticides enough to warrant paying extra for less exposure? Well, the USDA does test for pesticide levels and risks to humans. The conventionally grown produce you purchase will not likely cause any harm.
Despite the limited, if any, risks to consumers, groups like the Environmental Working Group post lists like the Dirty Dozen, potentially scaring consumers. The EWG has received criticism for its tactics, especially since the produce the organization lists as dirty is not linked to pesticides with known dangers to humans.
Pesticides and Human Health
The Environmental Protection Agency monitors the use of pesticides, as does the USDA. Both organizations find no reason to fear modern or conventional farming practices. The risks to consumers, if any, are nominal. Even outside organizations such as Consumer Reports suggest that traditional growing methods pose little threat to consumers.
That said, only you can speak to your comfort level with the foods you eat. If you believe the nonorganic farming methods may pose a risk to you or your family, by all means, buy USDA organic. All that matters is you feel safe eating healthy and nutritious foods.
The answer to the great debate about whether organic produce is worth the price tag is it depends. From a purely nutritional perspective, organic produce doesn't offer many benefits over nonorganic and less expensive options. However, researchers have found that organic produce contains higher levels of antioxidants. Also, organic options are less affected by pesticides and chemicals, which appeals to some consumers, despite any evidence that it helps to protect consumer health. That said, organic and conventionally grown produce is healthy, so eat what makes you feel better.