Friday, March 16, 2012

Is Organic Food Worth Spending Your Money On?

What is the difference between organic and non-organic foods? Is organic better for you? I'm here to help you sort out the difference and make a healthy, informed choice. Get the facts before your next grocery store trip.

Organic and non-organic foods differ in the way that they are farmed. Organic farming is designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Organic farmers do not use chemicals to fertilize, control weeds or prevent disease. These are some of the major differences between organic and conventional farming.

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth
Natural fertilizers are used to feed soil and plants like manure and compost.
Use herbicides to control weeds
Rotate crops, hand weeds or mulch to manage weeds
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and diseases.
Use beneficial insects or birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease
Animals are given antibiotics, growth hormones and medication to prevent disease and promote growth.
Animals are fed organic feed and allow them to be outdoors. Preventative measures are used to minimize disease like rotational grazing and clean housing.

How can you tell if a product is organic or not? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has an organic certification program. This program requires that all organic food meet strict government regulations like how the food is grown, handled and processed. Any product that claims that it is organic must be USDA certified. With the exception of producers who sell less than $5,000 a year, but they still must follow the regulations.

Products labeled "100% organic" are either completely organic or made of all organic ingredients. Labels that say "organic" are at least 95% organic. Products that are labeled "made with organic ingredients" contain at least 70% of organic ingredients, but do not have the seal.

Is organic food more nutritious? There isn't a clear answer yet, but there are other reasons why people may choose organic food over conventional food.
     - Pesticides. The pesticides that are sprayed on the produce leave a residue lingering. This
       may be a reason that people choose organic, to reduce their exposure to these chemicals.
       Organic food contain far fewer pesticides than conventional produce. Studies have linked
       pesticide exposure to cancer, neurological damage, birth defects and possibly the early onset of
       Parkinson's Disease.
     - Food Additives. Organic regulations restrict the use of food additives, processing aids or
       fortifying agents. This includes preservatives, colorings, artificial preservatives ad flavorings.
     - Environmental Reasons. Organic farming is designed to benefit the environment. This is
       done by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.

What are the negatives to buying organic? The most common concern with buying organic is the cost. Organic food can be 50-100% more expensive than conventional food. They may also spoil faster because they do not contain chemicals or preservatives.

What are the foods that you should buy organically? Certain foods are more susceptible to pesticide residue than others. With cost in mind, it may be beneficial to know what foods are most important to buy organically:
     - Apples, nectarines, pears. Unfortunately the peel is where most of the pesticide chemicals
       accumulate, the healthiest part.
     - Bell Peppers. Have one of the highest concentrations of pesticide residues.
     - Celery.
     - Grapes.
     - Spinach and lettuce. 57 different pesticide chemicals have been found on spinach and 51 on
     - Potatoes and carrots.
     - Milk and beef. The cows are not given antibiotics or hormones.
     - Baby foods. Kids' immune systems are not fully developed.
     - Strawberries. Pesticide residue accumulates within the seeds.

Foods that have the least amount of pesticide residues and not worth spending your money on:
     - Mangoes, kiwi, pineapple, avocados and bananas. Wash the skin, even though it is not edible,
       to reduce contamination on your skin.
     - Broccoli.
     - Cabbage and onions. Once the outer layer is removed.
     - Peas.
     - Asparagus.
     - Corn. The pesticides get absorbed in the husks that are removed.

BONFILS, DARCY. "Organic vs. Nonorganic: What Fruits and Veggies Should You Buy?" ABC News. ABC News Network, 08 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <>.


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