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Is Organic Food Better For You? Here’s What Experts Say

A person chops a bell pepper on a wooden cutting board surrounded by other fruits and vegetables.
Some organic food might have additional nutritional and safety benefits, but buying only organic foods isn’t the only way to have a safe, healthy, and nutritious diet.

You’ve probably noticed the price difference between organic and non-organic food at the grocery store. Sometimes, it can be significant and staggering. So, is organic food better for you, and is it worth the money?

Maybe you’ve been told by your healthy friends that organic food is the healthier option. Or maybe you don’t know anything about it. Either way, the price difference might cause you to scratch your head and steer clear.

So we spoke with health and nutrition experts about organic foods’ benefits, what exactly organic really means, if it’s better for you, and of course, whether it’s worth your hard-earned dollar.

Table of Contents

What Does Organic Food Mean?
Is Organic Food Better for You?
Should You Buy All Organic Food?
What Should You Do If You Can’t Buy Organic Food?
So Overall, Is Organic Food Worth it?

What Does Organic Food Mean?

A group of various produce is arranged in a wooden basket on a kitchen counter.

You’ve seen organic labels, and you’ve heard people talk about their organic produce. But what does organic mean?

In the simplest terms, organic refers to how your food was grown and produced. These foods include fresh produce, meat, grains, and dairy products.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates and certifies if food is organic. They label the food so you can tell whether or not you’re buying organic groceries.

For food to be considered organic, it must be grown without synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and GMOs (or genetically modified organisms). Additionally, livestock should have fair living conditions—like being pasture-raised. They also must not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal by-products to help them grow faster.

Also, always be sure to look for the USDA Organic label when shopping. This means the food production methods have been approved by the USDA and are regulated. While some brands might label their foods as “natural,” don’t be fooled. It’s that USDA Organic label you want.

Is Organic Food Better for You?

a woman unpacks groceries

Based on what exactly organic food means, it’s easy to assume it’s better for you, and it’s often repeated that it is. Let’s talk about why people believe that.

Kylene Bogden, RD, the Co-Founder of FWDFuel and Pureboost Ambassador, spoke with LifeSavvy about the risk of the synthetic chemicals and antibiotics that could enter your diet via non-organic foods.

“More and more research is arising showing that many harmful chemicals can be avoided when purchasing organic,” Bodgen said.

Bodgen explained to LifeSavvy that buying organic food is the best way to limit your toxic exposure as organic produce has less pesticide residue. That makes for a healthier, safer diet.

But it’s not just about safety. Buying organic food could also have nutritional benefits.

“For consumers who can afford it, organic might be the right choice,” said Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a food and nutrition expert.

Largeman-Roth told LifeSavvy that organic dairy and meats have a healthier fatty acid profile, with omega-3 fats, which have many health benefits, including lower inflammation and improved heart health.

While there are only a limited number of studies proving the benefits of organic food, there is preliminary evidence to suggest that’s the case. Plus, both our experts agree: eating organic food is the best way to limit your toxic exposure and potentially improve overall nutrition in your diet.

Should You Buy All Organic Food?

Perishable foods including raw meat, fish, eggs and various dairy.

While the evidence does appear to point toward buying organic as a way to improve some aspects of nutrition and safety, not everyone can afford it. After all, we’ve seen the cost of groceries rise steeply in recent months, and that has only caused purchasing organic to become more difficult for many families.

So, does all food need to be organic?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a list of produce they advise you always buy in organic form. According to the organization, these foods have the highest pesticide residue and can lead to more exposure. Called “the dirty dozen”, this list is the items you should strive to buy in organic form. The dirty dozen includes:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Bell and hot peppers
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes

On the other hand, produce on the EWG’s “clean fifteen” list doesn’t need to be purchased organic. If you’re looking for a way to buy organic but save money, these are the items that have the least chemical exposure. The clean fifteen includes:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Asparagus
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Cantaloupe
  • Mangoes
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes

As for a general rule of when to buy organic and when to stick to conventional foods, Bogden told LifeSavvy that you’ll want to purchase organic produce when you can’t remove the outer, most-exposed layer. When it comes to priorities, she suggested focusing most on buying the “dirty dozen” in organic form.

Organic food isn’t just produce, though. Meat also has organic options, but the science surrounding it is a bit unclear. Like fruits and vegetables, there are few studies exploring the difference between organic meat and non-organic meat, but it’s not comprehensive enough to deliver a firm answer. Some studies have found that organic meat offers more antioxidants—inflammation fighters that could help ward off disease. However, a 2010 study, posited that buying organic meat only because of a belief in added nutrition isn’t getting you much additional nutrition at all.

While some would point to added antibiotics in non-organic meat, the levels of antibiotics in meat are low because the United States are strict regulations to ensure contaminated food doesn’t reach the supply chain. The National Residue Program oversees all exposures in the United States. While overuse of antibiotics could lead to resistant bacteria, the USDA updates its regulations to account for overuse.

When it comes to buying organic meat, this is one area you’re likely able to skip as there are few studies proving significant nutritional benefits, and safety concerns are highly regulated.

What Should You Do If You Can’t Buy Organic Food?

Someone shopping for seasonal produce.

No matter how much you might want to buy organic food, due to budgetary constraints, it just might not be possible for some families. That’s fine. There should be no shame surrounding affordability needs.

However, organic farming is much more labor intensive and requires more time, which factors into the prices. Certification is also expensive, and organic feed for animals costs significantly more. This means organic food prices are unlikely to fall.

There’s good news, though. There are still ways you can eat well. For starters, make sure to thoroughly wash and scrub your produce under running water.

Although this process might not eliminate all the pesticides, you can also peel your fruits and veggies. But be advised this can get rid of some of the healthy nutrients on the outside of the produce.

Bodgen did also have tips for saving money if you want to slowly begin purchasing organic without breaking the bank. She suggested buying in-season produce, shopping locally, and even working with organic, local farmers in exchange for potential discounts.

So, while organic food can be expensive, if you can’t afford it, washing and prepping your food properly and looking for creative savings are ways to eat healthfully or work organic food into your diet.

So Overall, Is Organic Food Worth it?

A woman shops in a grocery store.

We’ve got good news for your budget. Both registered dietitians agree that you can still eat well without buying all of your food organic.

“The most important factor for your health is to eat a variety of foods with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes,” Largeman-Roth said.

She also pointed out that only 10% of the United States population eats the right amount of fruits and vegetables daily and stressed that it’s more important for people to have a proper diet than to focus on only eating organic foods.

If possible, mix conventional and organic foods into your diet. Always try to buy the dirty dozen in organic form and thoroughly wash your produce. While preparing your food, keep food safety rules in mind for a safe, well-balanced diet. But above all, make sure your diet is balanced and nutritious.

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