You’re determined to eat healthier this year, but does that mean you need to make the switch to organic food because it’ll provide you with added health benefits over conventional food? Is it really worth the extra cost?
Many people implicitly think organic food is healthier and safer to eat than regular food. It is also thought to be better for the environment. This is probably why organic foods have exploded in popularity in recent years.
Organic food refers to how a crop is grown or animals are raised. Foods labeled as “organic” are produced without the use of hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, artificial food additives or chemicals. When it comes to crops such as fruits, vegetables and grains, farmers may use natural fertilizers and specific farming practices instead of synthetic fertilizers. Animal products, such as meat and dairy, come from animals raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
If you’re concerned about what the added cost of going organic may do to your food budget, you may be relieved to know that most independent studies have shown there is no significant difference in the nutritional benefits of organic vs. conventional foods. Some studies have indicated that certain organic foods may be more nutritious than non-organic foods but results vary and may depend on how a food is produced or handled.
One review of 55 studies found no differences in the nutrient content of organic crops compared to regular crops, with the exception that lower nitrate levels were found in organic crops. Another review that looked at 233 studies found there was no strong evidence showing that organic foods are more nutritious than regular foods.
Some nutritionists suggest that if you are thinking of switching to organic foods in order to boost your nutritional intake, you may instead be better off upping the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting the amount of processed foods in your diet. You don’t necessarily need to choose organic foods, but by replacing the processed foods in your diet with more natural foods, you’ll advance in eating healthier without having to pay the high price tag. You’ll naturally avoid artificial additives.
If your concern, however, is that you want to limit your exposure to artificial chemicals, pesticide residue and hormones, then choosing organic over conventional food may be the way to go. One study showed pesticide residue was four times more likely to be found in non-organic crops than in organic crops. It’s worth noting, however, that evidence suggests the risk of exposure to pesticide residue from foods is relatively small and likely won’t cause any harm.
It’s also important to keep in mind that just because a food is labeled organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You’ll find store shelves filled with foods like cookies, ice cream and chips with “organic” labels, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still filled with sugar, salt, fat or loads of calories. The word “organic” only refers to how the food was grown or produced and does not give you an indication of how healthy the food is.
There’s certainly no harm in choosing organic food over non-organic food if your budget allows. Buying organic is a personal decision, but if you’re considering going organic solely for better nutrition, you probably don’t need to do so based on the evidence.