Family Health, Nutrition and Fitness, Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

Organic vs. Conventional Foods: Is one really better for you?

Organic fruits and vegetables have become very popular with consumers and are available in most supermarkets, even the discount chains like Target and Aldi. But what does the term organic really mean, do you need organic fruits and vegetables to be healthy and are organic products worth the extra money?

What is Organic?

Organic produce is grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge. The food is produced by farmers who use renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water when farming. Organic products cannot be irradiated or be genetically modified, and organic meat must come from livestock fed only 100 percent organic feed. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an Organic Certification Program and puts its Organic Seal on products that contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Look for this seal if you want organic products.

Does “Natural” Mean Organic?

Foods labeled “natural” or “all natural” are not the same as organic. While organic foods are labeled by the USDA, the “natural” label in the United States has no legal definition or federal supervision, and is not regulated by any law or criteria, except for eggs and meat. For consumers, that makes the natural label on products like peanut butter or cereal confusing, and sometimes misleading. “Until the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) adopts a stricter definition of natural, consumers should be wary of that label and pay close attention to the ingredient lists on those products,” said Pat Fogarty MS, RDN, LDN, Outpatient Wellness Dietitian with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Institute. “Often, when a consumer inspects the ingredient labels, they’ll find that “natural” packaged foods can be low fiber, nutrient-poor and highly processed."

Organic Versus Conventional

What’s the real difference between organic and conventionally grown produce?

Organic produce is grown with natural fertilizers like compost and is not exposed to pesticides and herbicides in production. Weeds are controlled naturally through crop rotation, hand weeding, and mulching and insects are controlled using natural methods like birds and traps. Because its production is generally more labor intensive, organic produce tends to be more expensive. Conventional produce is less expensive, but it can be produced with pesticides, herbicides and synthetic or chemical fertilizers.

Is Organic Better for Me?

Consumers may be surprised to learn that research has not shown organic produce to be nutritionally superior to conventionally grown produce. Studies have also found that there is little evidence that conventionally grown foods were a higher health risk than organically grown products. “It’s worth noting that organic foods may still be exposed to chemicals carried in the wind or water,” said Fogarty. “Whether choosing organic or conventional produce, consumers should buy produce without broken peels/skin or holes, decrease any pesticide/herbicide residue by scrubbing fruits and vegetables with a vegetable brush and remove outer leaves. All produce should be washed thoroughly, even when the outside rind or peel is not eaten because when you use a knife to slice through the produce it could introduce bacteria or other microbial contaminants into the inside edible part.”

What Produce Should I Choose?

“Organic foods are often more expensive than conventionally grown produce because of the labor-intensive nature of growing organic, so that’s certainly a consideration,” said Fogarty. “Also, the availability of organic foods is sometimes limited. “ “Whether you choose to consume only organic fruits and vegetables is ultimately a personal decision,” Fogarty noted, “but your overall goal should be to consume the recommended five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day. If a consumer is interested in learning more about organic produce I would recommend visiting the Environmental Working Group website.” If organic produce is not available in your store, or the cost does not fit in your family’s budget, Fogarty recommends a great alternative would be to buy local produce at a local farmers' market. Visit ncfarmfresh to find a farmers' market near you.