To Choose Organic, or Not?

Not All Organic Labels are Created Equal

Many assume foods with an organic label automatically deserve a health halo, but that may not always be the case. While organic foods are grown without pesticides or artificial fertilizers, the nutrient value does not vary much between organic and conventional counterparts.[1] Additionally, not all organic labels are created equal, adding to even greater consumer confusion.

Many organic whole foods, such as organic produce, poultry, or dairy, are automatically 100% organic due to their natural, whole state. However, packaged or processed foods with organic labels may not offer the same quality of product as whole foods. Some labels with words like, “made with organic ingredients”, have not met the same standards of quality placed upon foods with the USDA organic seal. While foods without the seal may contain a few organic ingredients, foods with the USDA seal have passed rigorous inspection and qualifications for organic farming practices, deeming them worthy of the trusted seal. When looking for organic foods, be sure to note the differences in labeling, and ultimately, the product’s amount of organic contents.

Beyond labels, differences in whole foods and packaged foods still remain -- organic or not. Even if a product does contain 100% organic ingredients, it may also still include nutritionally-nil ingredients like added sugar, refined grains, or saturated fats. While these foods are fine to incorporate into a balanced, healthful diet, they are not more nutrient-rich when originating from organic sources.

Organic Benefits

However, organic foods do hold their share of benefits. Research has shown organic produce contains up to 30% less pesticide residue than conventional kinds. Organic products are also free of antibiotics and growth hormones.[2] Additionally, organic farming practices are designed to be more sustainable and therefore produce lower pollutants.[3] Although organic food does not have different nutrients from conventional varieties, they may offer added benefits from both a safety and environmental viewpoint.

Overall, buying organic should be a personal choice. Because organic foods often include a higher price tag, each family needs to decide if the benefits are valuable enough to justify the cost. In terms of nutrition, however, additional fruits and vegetables will always provide healthful nutrients to one’s diet -- organic or not.