To Buy or Not to Buy Organic Food

Organic foods are all-natural, pesticide-free gems, but are they worth the extra green? Will a kitchen stocked with all organic products really do anything for your health—or your waistline?

First, a little bit about organic food labels and what they mean... For a long time, the government didn’t regulate the term organic and we had no guarantee of what this term meant when displayed on a food label.

Now, here’s the scoop on labeling. If the product has...

  • At least 95 percent of all the ingredients certified organic, it gets the USDA official “organic seal”
  • At least 70 percent of all the ingredients certified organic, it can list “organic” in the product description on the label, but not display the official USDA organic seal.
  • Less than 70 percent of organic ingredients, the word organic can be used on the product ingredient list on the back of the package only.

Is organic food more nutritious?

Most studies show that the nutrient content of both organic and conventional foods to be equivalent. Not exact, but very similar. So, if the nutrient content is equivalent, then why buy organic?

If you’re concerned about hormones and antibiotic use in beef, chicken and their byproducts (like dairy and eggs), consider buying organic versions. While it is very safe to consume the regular products, it might be worth the extra money for peace of mind.

For produce, there is some evidence that thin-skinned produce—like apples, green peppers and porous fruits, like berries—might be a good choice, since the pesticide residue is more easily able to penetrate the thin and porous skins. That said, it is perfectly safe to consume any fruit or vegetable that is not organic. For fruits with a thick skin that are peeled (along with any residue), as with a banana or orange, the organic choice is one of taste preference.

Processed foods labeled organic are not any healthier than conventional. Pastries, cookies and similar products labeled organic still have the same calories, fat and lack of nutrients, compared with conventional products. Choose them if you like, but don’t confuse the nutrient composition.

Another good choice in this area is for locally grown foods. While not necessarily organic, there is more readily available information about such foods—all you have to do is ask when you buy at your local farmer’s market or farm stand.

A good rule of thumb is to consider organic foods for those products you consume the most, but the bottom line for all of this is that all food available is safe to consume. Organic foods can be a health plus for many products, but the scientific evidence does not show that it is safer or better, so you be the judge of what is best for you and your family.

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