Organic vs. Non-Organic Food: Is Organic Worth It?

Ask anyone what they think when they hear the word “healthy”, and more often than not the word “organic” pops to mind. A quick trip to any decently stocked grocery store would display an array of organic foods, organic beverages, organic skin products and even organic clothing.

In the organic vs. non-organic food showdown, the real question is: Are organic foods truly superior to their non-organic counterparts? Anything labelled “organic” certainly does not come free of cost – indeed, these products usually incur a significant surcharge for the ever-sought “organic” stamp of approval.

Many experts believe that there is no additional benefit to eating organic food. (1) Some people even believe that the organic movement is a clever gimmick by grocers and markets to sell produce and food products at an escalated price, while not providing the consumer any additional benefits, nutritional or Tomato Perspectiveotherwise.

Others, however, truly believe that organic produce is of superior quality, offering improved nutritional content, safer consumption and even better taste, justifying the usual inflated price-tag that accompanies the purchase. With the organic movement, we see a global rise in the availability of organic produce and food, as well as a steady increase in new grocers dedicated to selling organic food products exclusively.

 

Organic Food – Is the Price Tag Worth Your Health?


Are these increases in resources dedicated to organic foods justified? The evidence is somewhat conflicting.

A study performed by Washington State University confirmed that a consumer’s risk of encountering pesticide residues are significantly decreased with organic food, referencing a Consumers Union study which looked at more than 94,000 food samples and 20 different crops.

However, there are some concerns regarding the levels of natural toxins generated by organic produce – as there are minimal or no synthetic pesticides used with organic crops, organic plants may produce more of their own natural toxins to counteract weeds and pests. (2) Another large prospective study examined 623,080 women in the UK to determine if eating an organic diet reduced the risk of certain cancers. The women self-reported the frequency of consumption of organic food over a period of nine years. The study concluded that there was little or no decrease in the incidence of cancer with the consumption of organic food, “except possibly for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma”. (3)

Paradoxically, a systematic literature review performed by Baranski et al., published in September 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed that levels of certain minerals and antioxidants, important for reducing cardiovascular and neurodegenerative risk factors, as well as certain cancers, were found to be substantially higher in organic crops versus conventionally grown (non-organic) Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/wiredforsound23/5654073163/">wiredforlego</a> via <a href="https://visualhunt.com">Visualhunt</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA</a>crops. Lower residues of the toxic metal Cadmium and pesticide residue (four times less residue) were also found with organic crops. (4)

Some studies also touch on the fact that children who eat an organic diet have a tendency to lower body weight and less allergies. Another interesting fact is that animals appear to  not only to be able to distinguish between organic and non-organic produce, but they prefer organic food. (5)

What is evident, however, is that further research is required in order to unquestionably determine the effect of an organic diet on human health and disease risk. Equally as important, though beyond the scope of this article, are the effects of organic versus conventional farming on crops, soil and health of the agro-ecosystem.

 

Yes, You Should Eat Organic Food


What does this mean for you and your health? Though the evidence remains somewhat inconclusive, this does not mean that there is no benefit to eating organic food. (After all, asbestos was once considered safe as well). Your doctor may not be able to say definitely that it is truly healthier to eat an organic diet, but the data relays that there is no harm in following an organic diet. Also, there appears to be certain benefits to your micronutrient health and overall well-being with an organic diet.

If organic produce is available and within your financial means, you may wish to start incorporating organic foods into your diet if you don’t already. This may mean a bit of a pricier grocery bill each week, but think of it as a long term investment in your health – you may not see immediate gains, but further down the years, the benefits of increased anti-oxidant consumption, potential decrease in cancer risk, improved nutrition and lower chemical and pesticide exposure will improve and support a healthy lifestyle.

As John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University, once said, “Is [an organic diet] going to make a difference? I don’t know, but it’s something to think about, and we’re the guinea pigs.” (2)

Yours in health,

Dr. K.

References:

  1. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunger GE, Bavinger Jc, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med [Internet]. 2012 Sep [cited 2015 Jan 30]; 157(5):348-66. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875
  2. WebMD [homepage on the Internet]. New York; c2005-2015 [cited on 2015 Jan 30]. Available from: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/organic-food-better
  3. Bradbury KE, Balkwill A, Spencer EA, Roddam AW, Reeves GK, Green J et all. Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom. Br J Cancer [Internet]. 2014 Apr [cited 2015 Feb 8]; 110(9):2321-6. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24675385
  4. Baranski M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, Seal C, Sanderson R, Stewart GB et all. Higher antioxident and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr [Internet]. 2014 Sep [cited 2015 Feb 8]; 112(5):794-811. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103
  5. Johansson E, Hussain A, Ramune K, Staffan A, Olsson M. Contribtion of organically gorwn crops to human health. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2014 Apr [cited on 2015 Feb 8]; 11(4):3870-3893. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025038/
Dr. K. is a clean-eating, paleo-ish foodie with a passion for health and wellness. She enjoys lifting and sharing how you can live a healthier, happier and wiser life. She loves hearing from readers, so feel free to leave a comment or email her at drk@healthylifehack.com.

21 comments on “Organic vs. Non-Organic Food: Is Organic Worth It?Add yours →

  1. Well written article, most people tend to not cite references as thoroughly as you did. Personally, I don’t like to being a “guinea pig”, but a man has to eat. So my answer is eat organically as much as possible but if I cant, im not gonna loose sleep over it.
    Hopefully, there will be more concrete evidence pointing to one side or the other because both sides have their advantages and disadvantages.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Mr Expertise! Glad you enjoyed the article. A 100% organic diet is near impossible in this day and age, but that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from striving to eat healthier. As they say, the consumer votes with their dollar.

    1. Thanks for stopping by GrampaMike! Glad you enjoyed the post. That’s wonderful that your daughter teaches healthy eating – something that is unfortunately severely lacking in most school systems!
      All the best,
      Dr. K.

  2. Hi Dr. K,
    For me, the jury is still out on the whole “organic” label. I’ve always been a label reader and I notice that these days, a lot of people are starting to read the labels more closely. SO that’s a good thing.
    But when it comes to “organic” food, I think it’s a catch -22. On one hand, if you don’t use any pesticides at all, you stand the risk of insect-infested fruits and grains. So this leads us to the development of more and more methods to deal with the issues of pesticides and GMOs and the research takes years. And every day, there’s a new news story about some new sientific breakthrough or, or a discovery that this or that causes cancer or stress to the digestive tract, and yada yada yada.

    So i tend to go with my own gut instinct (pun intended) when choosing what I consume. Sometimes opt for the organic, sometimes the organic produce doesn’t look all that safe. It tends to go bad sooner and I’ve seen people get food poisoning from organic food, while the treated food with preservatives may not make you sick immediately but perhaps has a cumulative effect.

    I’m no doctor, so I would like to thank you for a well written article and for breaking it down for us here.

    1. Hi Hal,

      With so much marketing for both organic and conventionally raised food, it’s a wonder that anyone can make a decision at all!

      As you mentioned, with organic food, there may be a tendency for some produce to spoil quicker. To prevent this, it’s always helpful to buy local organic – that way, the produce didn’t spend days or weeks in a moving refrigerator to reach your grocery aisle. You’ll get more ‘shelf’ life out of local produce as well as supporting your local farmers.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Dr. K.

  3. Affordability has been an issue with me when it comes to eating organic. I want to do it, but I can’t lie and say that I’m fine with paying much more for organic spinach or grass fed beef compared to the normal stuff. It is something I am working on.

    1. Hi Ashley,

      I totally agree with you! I live in an area where organic food has a huge price tag, and it can certainly be a deterrent for a lot of people.

      Eating organic on a budget can be a challenge, but is definitely doable! Here are some tips I find helpful:

      -Shopping at your local farmers market – you’ll find cheaper produce that is more likely organic, or at least less processed, than your grocery store. Also, you’ll get to know the farmers and the quality of their produce – you’d be surprised at the bargains that you can get at the market!

      -Shopping at your local warehouse store – some of the warehouse stores are starting to carry a large range of organic produce and grass-fed meats, a definite bonus for those of us shopping on a budget. Clear some space in your freezer in order to store these purchases! I love buying organic, pre-cut veggies and having them easily available in the freezer for quick dinner sides.

      -Purchase grass-fed meat in bulk – this is something I haven’t done as yet, but I know others who do this on a regular basis. They get friendly with their local butcher or farmer, and then anytime wild game or grass-fed meet comes in a group of them will purchase the meat (I’m talking about over 100 lbs of meat here) at an incredible price per pound. They then divide up the meat and end up having grass-fed meat at a great price for months. Again, probably a lot of freezer space is a good idea.

      Hope this helps! All the best,

      Dr. K.

  4. Great Article! Organic does seem to be a household word these days. You asked the question is it work the extra money for organic grown foods and you summed it up nicely as to how your health is worth the extra money of eating organically. I see more and more certified organic products in the stores as well. There should be no price tag to the importance of eating a healthy organic diet – Thanks for the information – Marilyn

    1. Hi Marilyn,

      Thanks for stopping by! I totally agree – unfortunately, there is usually a significant price tag associated with the “organic” label. With organic becoming more mainstream and consumers voting with their dollar, it is on its way to becoming more available and affordable for everyone.

      Yours in health,

      Dr. K.

  5. Hi,

    Great arguments you have here, however in my personal opinion organic foods are still far better than the non-organic ones.
    We will never realize the price of our health until when we suddenly get sick. It will not worth any penny for you at that time except your heath. Therefore, I think spending a bit extra to get healthy foods is a good move.

    1. Hi Fadhill,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      I wholeheartedly agree that by not eating organic foods we are taking a chance with our health and body. It is very positive to see the global growth in organic produce sales year on year. I would always encourage purchasing locally grown and organic produce where available and if affordable.

      It truly is a choice – we can choose to spend our money on our health now, or on our sickness when we’re older.

      Best,

      Dr. K.

  6. Great article with lots of footnotes and resources to fall back on. From my understanding organic is safer because it’s more natural, however some foods claim to be more natural but if we read the ingredients we find out the only thing saying it is natural is the label. So it’s very difficult to say.

    For me the safest way of eating is avoiding foods with lots of preservatives because the organic food is not within reach for me at the moment. I do use some organic and GMO free foods but as you make clear here there is no actual way of telling. It’s always better safe than sorry.

    1. Hi Carlos,

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, though controversial, a large consensus of data and personal preference agree that organic food is a safer option. It is definitely better safe than sorry. Buying organic-certified (USDA) food makes it a higher likelihood that the product is produced with little/no pesticides and is non-GMO.

  7. Speaking for the U.S. we have been getting sicker for decades now. Most things are simple if we will look at them simply.

    Our Medical System and food system is broken.
    Conventional Soil continues to be depleted.

    Articles and Studies are made by those who control by the Largest Food Manufacturers. So most food studies are flawed. Simply, this generation will be the first to live a shorter life in the History of the U.S. Simple Fact.

    I grow as much as I can grow Organically and buy the rest organic. We can create a growing environment where that is safe for all without the pesticides.

    The start is to value our Health. We (U.S.) are the sickest nation in the World. Cheap Food will get you bed in the hospital.

    Quality seldom costs as much as it saves.

    1. Hi Robert,

      I totally agree!! We are so fortunate to be living in the 21st century with the high-tech medicine we have available to us, but unfortunately it seems as if our knowledge of exactly how different types of food impact the body is lagging. There is certainly a plethora of research for our medications and medical procedures, but large, double-blind placebo controlled studies are lacking for general wellness outside of big pharma.

      As there is more of a movement from the general population to eat better, healthier, organic and minimally processed, the data will (slowly) start to follow!

      Cheers,

      Dr. K.

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