Walking through your local grocery store, you have probably seen the word “organic” throughout the produce section, as well as on many food labels on store shelves. With all the hype surrounding organic food it might make you wonder: should I be eating organic? What does that even mean? Are organic carrots better for me than regular carrots? It’s time to stop wondering and finally get the real story.
What does “organic” really mean?
In a nutshell, a food is organic if it has been grown or produced without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. When we think of organic food, we may first think of fruits and vegetables, but it also applies to animal products like eggs and meat, or other food products made with organically grown ingredients. A can of “organic” tomato sauce, for example, was made with tomatoes that were grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The farming methods and products used by organic food producers are inspected and certified by the USDA. When you see the “USDA certified organic” seal on the packaging, you know that food has been produced using only methods that meet this specialized criteria.¹ Fruits and vegetables and other food products that do not follow these special standards set by the USDA are referred to as “conventional”. Although organic food production is on the rise as the demand for it increases, most produce and other food products are still conventionally grown.
The pros and cons of organic food
There are several good reasons for growing and purchasing organic food. First, it may be healthier for us. Consuming organic food can reduce our exposure to chemical pesticides and growth hormones, as well as bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.² Secondly, it is better for the environment. Farming practices that use crop rotation and composting and utilize fewer chemicals are better for the soil and lessen pollution.² ³ On the flip side, however, research is split on whether or not organic produce is better nutritionally than conventional produce. Also, since organic food is usually more expensive for the farmer to grow, that cost is passed on to you, the customer, resulting in higher prices at the grocery store.²
How can I afford to eat organic?
So, what if you’ve decided that organic food is the right choice for you? Since the cost of organic food can be steep, how can you add it to your diet without going beyond what your grocery budget will allow? Even if eating strictly organic looks like it may be out of reach, here are a few ideas to get the best food possible on a budget:
- Focus on “The Dirty Dozen”. One strategy for saving money is to purchase organic versions of those fruits and vegetables that are typically high in pesticide residues. The top twelve, known as “the Dirty Dozen” include:
By focusing your organic purchases on these fruits and vegetables specifically, you can decrease your consumption of chemical pesticides without blowing your budget.
- Shop at farmer’s markets. Many local growers use organic methods even if their farms are too small to afford the inspections required to carry the USDA organic seal. Their prices may even rival the cost of conventional produce at the grocery store. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Your local farmer will be happy to explain their growing methods to you before you buy.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to purchase organically grown produce, the most important thing is to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. The USDA’s MyPlate recommendations say you should fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, regardless of how they were grown.⁴ Even if organic food is not within your budget, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables still contain the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants we need to maximize our health, and will have lasting health benefits for you and your family.
If you want to know more about building a plate that is right for your needs, you can call (312) 374 – 5399 or schedule an appointment online to talk with one of our healthcare specialists.
Submitted by Rebecca Byerly
Edited by Alexander Franz
Reviewed by Morgan Murdock, RD
Elavarasi, M. and Ponnusamy, K. A. (2015). Reasons for Resorting to Organic Farming and
Advantages Perceived by the Organic Farmers. Journal of Extension Education, 27(3), pp. 5485-5493. Retrieved from https://www.extensioneducation.org/index.php/jee/article/view/51/30
Gomiero, T. (2018). Food quality assessment in organic vs. conventional agricultural produce: Findings and issues. Applied Soil Ecology, 123, pp. 714-728. doi: 10.1016/j.apsoil.2017.10.014.
USDA. (2011). What is MyPlate? Retrieved from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/WhatIsMyPlate
USDA. (2019). Organic labeling. Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling