Organic Food -- Is 'Natural' Worth the Extra Cost?
12 organic foods that are worth the expense -- and 12 that probably aren't.
Once upon a time, organic food was available only at health food stores,
marketed to "tree-hugging" consumers willing to pay extra for
"natural," environmentally friendly foods. Today, organic foods are
undeniably mainstream. Not only can they be found at most every neighborhood
grocer, but even giants like Wal-Mart are getting into the act.
People who buy organic are seeking assurance that food production is gentle
to the earth, and/or looking for safer, purer, more natural foods. But are
organic foods really worth the added expense?
"If you can afford them, buy them," recommends New York University
professor Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH. "It really is a personal choice but how
can anyone think substances, such as pesticides, capable of killing insects,
can be good for you?"
But American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Keecha Harris, DrPH, says,
"There is no evidence that organic foods are superior over traditional
Food does not have to be organic to be safe and environmentally friendly,
she says. She recommends focusing on eating food grown close to where you live.
She notes that some organic foods come from multinational companies and have
been trucked across the country.
"They may be organic, but the ... environmental footprint includes lots of
petrochemicals used in transportation, whereas if you buy produce from your
local farmers market, it may not be organic but it is farm-fresh and less
impactful on the environment," says Harris
One thing the experts agree on: Regardless of whether you choose locally
grown, organic, or conventional foods, the important thing is to eat plenty of
fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of such a diet far outweigh any
potential risks from pesticide exposure.
What Makes a Food 'Organic'?
Don't confuse terms such as "free-range," hormone free" or
"natural" with organic. These food labeling terms are not regulated by
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created an organic seal. Foods
bearing it are required to be grown, harvested, and processed according to
national standards that include restrictions on amounts and residues of
pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "organic"
foods cannot be treated with any synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge,
bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. They may use pesticides derived from a
When buying organic, look for the following regulated terms on food
- Food labeled "100% organic" has no synthetic ingredients and can
legally use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled "organic" has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It
is eligible to use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least
70% organic ingredients. It is not eligible for the USDA seal.
- Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled "organic" must come from
animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones. "It is
almost impossible to get organic meat," Nestle notes.
It should be noted the USDA has yet to set standards for organic seafood or
cosmetics. Most cosmetics are blends, including ingredients that may or may not
Experts recommend spending most of your organic food dollars on produce, as
it is most likely to contain pesticides.