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Is Organic Food Worth the Cost?

fresh produce

Olga Bosnak/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

In this Article:

  • Organic foods are higher in some nutrients and have less pesticides, but may not prevent disease better than non-organic foods.
  • Organic foods are kinder to the environment, and many people think they taste better.
  • If you choose to eat non-organic foods, there are steps you can take to minimize pesticide residues.

Thinking of switching to organic foods? If so, you’re not alone – 45 percent of Americans say they’ve done exactly that. Because of their popularity, organic foods are easier to find in commissaries, as well as major grocery stores.

But making that switch isn’t cheap. Purchasing organic products for a family can cost hundreds of dollars more per year than buying conventionally produced foods. That steeper price tag begs an important question: are organic foods better for you?

The answer? It depends.

Are Organic Foods Better for You?

There’s no doubt that organic foods can have some benefits over their conventional counterparts. For example, organic fruits and vegetables often have higher amounts of vitamin C and anti-oxidants, and organic milk and meat pack in more “good fats”compared to non-organic products.

For many shoppers, organic foods are attractive because of what they don’t have — less pesticide residues on fruits, vegetables, and grain products. On the other hand, the amount of pesticides and bacteria in conventional foods is at levels considered safe for consumers by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Are People Who Eat Organic Foods Healthier?

So if organic foods have some benefits, then packing your diet with them should ward off all kinds of diseases, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Scientific studies haven’t found conclusive evidence that eating organic foods makes you healthier. To date, there’s no proof that eating organic rather than conventionally produced foods will reduce your likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease, or other serious conditions.

Health benefits aside, some people prefer organic foods for reasons ranging from claims of better taste (although this claim doesn’t always hold up in taste tests) to reduced environmental impact.

The Choice is Yours.

Whether or not you choose to buy organic foods, here’s what you can do to make sure your food is healthy and safe:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Even accounting for small amounts of pesticide residues in non-organic produce, eating fruits and vegetables is unquestionably healthier than avoiding them.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well—organic or non-organic—to remove dirt, bacteria, and residues from fertilizers and pesticides. Use a vegetable scrubber and warm, soapy water on potatoes and other root vegetables, as well as melons or citrus fruits with thick rinds (cutting the rind can drag surface bacteria into the fruit). Hand scrub apples, peaches, and softer vegetables. Rinse berries and leafy greens under running water for 15 seconds. Peeling fruits and vegetables removes pesticide residues, but you also lose nutrients by tossing away edible skins (from apples or potatoes, for example).
  • Buy lean meat and trim fat before cooking; some pesticide residues accumulate in fat. For the same reason, remove skin from poultry and fish.

Want More?

Still undecided? If you want to avoid the foods most likely to have higher levels of pesticides, you can consult the “Dirty Dozen” list issued by the Environmental Working Group. If you decide to buy organic, look for foods labeled “USDA Organic” to make sure you get what you pay for.