Diet and Nutrition
Ask Charles Platkin, the Diet Detective
Are Organic Foods Really Better?
Q: These days, there's so much hype about eating organic foods. What are the benefits of an organic diet? Are these foods really worth the cost?
A: And so the organic food debate continues! Many people in favor of certified organic foods (which contain little to no pesticide residues, antibiotics, or growth hormones) claim that they are more healthful and safer than foods grown in more conventional ways. And the truth is, if you want to reduce the pesticides and chemicals you and your family are exposed to, it makes sense to switch to organic.
But you should first ask yourself if you prefer to err on the side of caution. Because of the lack of proof demonstrating that conventionally grown foods should be considered dangerous, some health experts aren't convinced that humans ingest enough agricultural chemicals from non-organic foods to threaten their health. Of course, just because we don't have all the evidence to explain the danger doesn't mean the danger isn't there. So eating organic food is certainly a way to play it safe.
The downside to choosing organic foods is that doing so can be expensive. The average family of four might spend between 50 to 300 percent more to be completely organic. If you're on a tight budget, keep in mind that eating any fruits and vegetables is better than eating none at all.
If you do choose to go organic (or partially organic), use these cost-saving tips:
Prioritize purchases. Be selective about the organic foods you buy. According to an analysis by the USDA, the following foods (nicknamed the "dirty dozen") were found to contain the highest pesticide levels:
To see where your favorite fruits and vegetables rank in terms of pesticide loads, go to www.foodnews.org, the Web site of the Environmental Working Group.
- Bell peppers
- Grapes (imported varieties)
Search online for coupons. Many major organic brands (including Stonyfield Farm, Organic Valley, Earthbound Farm, and Health Valley) offer coupons on their Web sites.
Comparison shop. Shop at discount stores and compare prices for specific items. Large discount chains like Sam's Club, Costco, Walmart, and Target now carry organic products.
Join a food co-op. These independent grocery stores sell local and organic foods to members at a discount. Some have a membership fee; others may require members to volunteer at the co-op for a few hours each month. To find a co-op near you, go to www.localharvest.org/food-coops or www.coopdirectory.org.
A final note: Be sure to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables you buy, organic and non-organic alike. It's best to rinse produce for 30 seconds, soak for 15 seconds, and then rinse a final time.
Learn more in the Everyday Health Diet and Nutrition Center.
Last Updated: 11/16/2009