is organic food better for you?
It’s easy to be skeptical about organic foods. You’re sure to have heard a lot about organic food and how it’s a healthier choice than traditional foods but you’re right to want to find out more before you start spending extra money – because let’s face it, organic foods come at a premium price over the same regular food. Organic foods are those not treated with pesticides during the growing process, which does have health benefits. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the sale of organic foods topped out at nearly $36 billion in 2014, which increased to $90 billion in 2016 (according to statista.com).
But, is organic food really better for you? The answer is yes, but it’s not always a simple choice.
Eating healthy means choosing a variety of foods from each food group, including fruits, vegetables, lean sources of protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. But you probably see more and more organic options every time you visit the grocery store. That might tempt you into buying organic items with the assumption that they’re going to be better for you than the regular version. Experts say that could or could not be true. Healthy foods provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to function on a daily basis, including protecting you from disease, boosting your mood, giving you energy, and supporting your bodily functions. Your body doesn’t know if the food is organic or not, it simply pulls the nutrients it needs and turns the rest into waste.
There are plenty of pros and a few cons to choosing organic foods, so learning more about them and understanding what you’re paying for can help you make the choices that are best for your health and your body. Here’s what you should know.
What Makes a Food Organic?
A food is considered organic when it is grown according to federal guidelines, and the equivalent in other countries, that take into account soil quality, weed and pest control, how animals are raised, and the type and amount of additives used. Organic farmers and ranchers use natural substances and natural farming practices as much as possible. That means that an organic food has been grown in soil without additives or pesticides, is not sprayed or otherwise treated with pesticides and is only grown according to organic guidelines. When it comes to organic meat, the animals are not given antibiotics, are allowed to graze freely, and are provided with a 100% organic feed.
Why Organic Gets so Much Attention
No one likes the idea of eating a fruit, vegetable or grain that could be covered in pesticides or other synthetic substances. Just the thought of consuming such chemicals is scary and alarming. But that’s just one reason why organic foods are getting so much attention. People like the idea of eating plant foods that have not been genetically modified and that are grown using natural processes. They also like the idea of eating meat that comes from animals who have been treated humanely and that are eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. The organic food regulations of governments give a country’s consumers peace of mind when it comes to choosing foods that align with their beliefs and health goals.
In addition, organic farming practices are better for the environment because they reduce the amount of chemicals in groundwater and the atmosphere, as well as using far less energy than more conventional methods of farming fruits, grains, vegetables, and meats.
What Foods are Organic?
All kinds of foods are considered organic, from fresh fruits and vegetables to the steaks you put in your grocery cart each week. However, there are also plenty of more processed foods that claim to be organic because they are made with organic ingredients. This includes grain products, such as bread, pasta and cereal. It also includes eggs and dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese. Foods that claim to be organic must meet certain guidelines before that claim can be added to their packaging, so look for the organic seal to be sure you’re getting what you expect.
You may have heard about the dirty dozen, which are the foods you should buy organic every time because otherwise they are the most infused with pesticides and chemicals. There are now more than 12 foods on this list, but they are still referred to in the same way. They include apples, bell peppers, kale, summer squash, nectarines, peaches, cucumbers, celery, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, grapes, and hot peppers. Because organic foods are often more expensive, these are the foods you should buy organic, even if your budget doesn’t allow you to eat 100% organic.
There are also some foods, called the Clean 15, that you don’t need to be worried about buying organic because they’re not often treated with pesticides or have very little exposure. This list includes kiwis, sweet potatoes, asparagus, onion, papaya, avocado, mushrooms, cabbage, pineapple, frozen sweet peas, grapefruit, cantaloupe, eggplant, and mangoes.
Nutrition of Organic Foods
While there are certainly some benefits to consider when you choose organic, you might be wondering if organic food is healthier. The truth is that right now, scientists and health experts can’t say for sure. Some small studies have found that organic foods are higher in vitamin C, important minerals and antioxidants, but the findings aren’t significant enough to take a stance on yet. Plus, for every study that says organic food is better for you, another study undermines it.
So, while you may not be exposed to more chemicals, hormones or pesticides when you choose organic foods, you aren’t necessarily getting more vitamins and minerals. However, some research shows that when foods aren’t treated with pesticides, they naturally boost their phytochemical levels so they are resistant to bugs and weeds. That means you get more of those phytochemicals when you eat the food. Again, however, it’s important to keep in mind that this research is limited and needs to be explored further before a definitive argument can be made for organic foods.
So, Are Organic Foods Good for You?
The easy answer here is yes, organic food is good for you. However, it might not be better for you than traditional foods. If you’re eating a variety of foods from each food group, you’re covering your nutrient needs, keeping your calorie intake under control and are preventing a whole list of health problems and diseases, from the common cold to cancer.
However, it’s also important to note that some organic foods might not be a healthy choice. Cookies, even if they’re made with organic wheat and sugar, are still cookies and are still high in fat and calories. Pizza, just because it’s made with organic crust and organic vegetables, is still pizza and will still fill you up on fat and calories when you eat it. It’s also good to understand that a food that claims to be made with organic ingredients isn’t necessarily 100% organic and that natural doesn’t mean the same thing as organic.
Now that you know the facts, you can make an informed decision about buying organic for yourself and your family. If you do choose to go organic, be sure to look for your country’s recognized and authorized organic seal on the foods you purchase, which indicates the item is 100% organic. It’s easy to find organic merchandise at farmers’ markets rather than your typical supermarket and they can also be found by joining a co-op or growing them yourself. Be sure you read labels carefully so you know exactly what you’re getting and don’t worry if you only buy a few things organic – you’re still getting the benefits, even if your budget doesn’t allow a complete organic overhaul.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line – many organic foods, including meat, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy, are already good for you and growing them organically doesn’t make a significant difference in terms of nutrition. However, eating foods that are free of pesticides, hormones, and other substances is better for your body by preventing a range of health problems, from minor nausea to skin disorders to Parkinson’s disease. It’s also better for the environment. Making informed and responsible decisions regarding your diet protects your health and your community in several ways, so it’s definitely a choice you can feel good about.