Organic produce costs more to grow than produce grown with non-organic fertilizers and pesticides. Those extra costs are passed along to consumers. For example, the price of regular raw spinach at my local supermarket is £1 per pound. The price of organic spinach is £2 per pound. Is organic produce worth paying so much more for?
There is no clear answer to this question. Here are the factors to consider in making your own decision about buying organic.
Think Price Per Nutrition, Not Price Per Pound
Numerous studies have found that organic produce is more nutritious than non-organic produce. So while you probably pay more for less food when you buy organic, you might actually pay less for more nutrition when you buy organic. A large study comparing nutrition in organic and non-organic foods found that antioxidant levels were up to 40 percent higher in organic fruits and vegetables than in their non-organic counterparts.
Other studies have found that produce grown with today’s methods contains much lower levels of vitamins and minerals than the same foods contained decades ago. For example, a study from the University of Texas reported sharply reduced levels of six nutrients in vegetables grown in 1999 compared to the levels reported in the same foods back in 1950.
There is evidence of differences in animal foods, as well. The first study mentioned above also found that organic milk contains up to 60 percent more antioxidants and healthy fats than non-organic milk.
A few studies have contradicted such findings, however, and in fact a recent review of the accumulated scientific literature in this area published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that nutrient levels in organic and non-organic produce are basically the same.
But defenders of the nutritional superiority of organic produce note that while a few studies have found equivalent nutrient levels in organic and non-organic produce, no research has ever found higher nutrient levels in non-organic produce. Hence, nobody is arguing that non-organic produce is better.
And Then There’s Pesticides
A second advantage of eating organic is that it will likely reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides. A study by researchers at Emory University, the University of Washington, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found unsafe levels of certain pesticides in 23 elementary school children. When the researchers placed the children on an organic diet for 15 days, the pesticide levels dropped immediately.
Little is known about the long-term consequences of chronic exposure to the low levels of pesticides found in most non-organic produce. It may significantly increase the risk for diseases such as cancer; it may not. Until we know more, each of us must decide for ourselves if eating mostly non-organic produce is a risk worth taking.
A Little Perspective
It should be noted, however, that most Americans do not eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables of either kind, organic or non-organic. In fact, more than two in five Americans eat fewer than two servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The health benefits associated with eating lots of fruits and vegetables are significant and well known and likely to significantly outweigh any negative effects associated with exposure to the pesticides in non-organic produce. In other words, eating five servings of non-organic fruits and vegetables daily is almost certainly healthier than eating two servings of organic fruits and vegetables.
If you are eating enough fruits and vegetables, and you can afford it, know that choosing organic options as often as possible may well be worth the money. But if organic produce is not in your budget, don’t lose sleep over it.
About The Author: Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.