"Kosher food is a good analogy -- it may or may not be healthier for you, but it is produced according to specific rules," Denison tells WebMD. "When people buy it, they know exactly what they are getting."
In fact, the jury is still out regarding organic foods' nutritional status, simply because there haven't been many studies, Givens says. "The scientific data available right now are inconclusive. There haven't been long-term studies of how it affects people who eat specific products," she says. "Most studies have compared conventionally grown to organic carrots, and some have shown organic produce to have more of one vitamin. But those studies have not been replicated."
What governs nutritional value is freshness -- and that means fruits and vegetables, regardless of how they're grown, have to get to the consumer pronto. It's one reason why farmers' markets are a good place to buy produce, Denison says.
But supplying supermarkets involves trucking, and whereas conventional farmers have long had refrigerated trucks to keep produce fresh, organic farmers couldn't always afford them, says Mark Lipson, spokesman for the Organic Farming Research Foundation. "That's changed. Anybody who is marketing to a large chain supermarket is getting it there by refrigerated trucks, delivered fresh to the store," he says. "The organic industry is very professional on that level now."
Once any type of produce gets to the store, its freshness is in the hands of supermarket managers. "If organic produce ever looks less than fresh, it may be because retailers leave it on shelves longer than they should because they've paid more for it," Givens tells WebMD. "Or it could just be a different variety of broccoli.
"Farmers choose a variety because it works better in their soil, in their climate, or because they think it tastes better," Givens says. "Just because it looks different doesn't mean it's any less nutritious."
Pesticides used in conventional farming are a major reason why people drift to organics. Whether those fears are still justified is still not known, Denison tells WebMD. Thirty years ago, DDT and dieldren were banned from use because they were determined to be carcinogenic, and today's standards on pesticides are "very strict," Denison says.