Is Organic Food Better for You?
Here's how to decide if it's worth the higher price.
Is Organic Food More Nutritious?
Right now, no one can say for sure whether organic food is any
more nutritious than conventional food. A few studies have reported that
organic produce has higher levels of vitamin C, certain minerals, and
antioxidants -- thought to protect the body against aging, cardiovascular
disease, and cancer. But the differences are so small that they probably have
no impact on overall nutrition.
"So far nothing is definitive, but there really hasn't been
a lot of money expended on looking at the nutritional benefits of organic
products," says DiMatteo. She points out that studies done before the USDA
national standard went into effect are likely to be invalid, as there were then
no reliable controls on organic production methods.
There is one nutritional certainty, though. If you want to get
the most from your food, eat it while it's fresh.
"Nutrients like vitamin C do oxidize over time. So even
though the nutrients might be higher in organic food to begin with, if it's
sitting in your refrigerator, you could lose that benefit," says
Plus, fresh food just tastes better. This may be one reason
people sometimes report that organic foods have more flavor. Because organic
farms tend to be smaller operations, they often sell their products closer to
the point of harvest. So don't be surprised if the organic fruits and
vegetables in your market taste more "farm fresh" than the comparable
Is It Worth the Cost?
Whether or not organic food really is safer or more nutritious,
advocates say there is one more compelling reason to go organic: The health of
the environment and society as a whole.
"Toxic and persistent pesticides do accumulate. They
accumulate in the soil; they accumulate in the water; they accumulate in our
bodies," says DiMatteo. "So by eliminating the use of these pesticides
and fertilizers in the organic production system, we are not contributing any
further to this pollution."
But food experts caution that while the big picture is
important, you must make the decision that makes the most sense for you.
If you can manage the higher price, and you like the idea of fewer pesticides
and a more environmentally friendly production system, organic food may be for
you. But don't skimp on healthy conventional foods just because you think you
need to save your pennies for the few organic items that you can afford.
"The best thing you can do for yourself is to eat lots of
fruits and vegetables and grains. And eat variety. From my perspective, it
doesn't matter whether they are organic or conventional," Winter says.
If you like the idea of organic foods but aren't ready to go
completely organic, you can always pick and choose. Depending on your own needs
and goals, here are a few items you might want to put on your list.