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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 Zelman.

 

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 conventional produce.

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.

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