The organic food market is booming. In 2011, sales of organic food reached $30 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association.
For consumers, here’s the $30 billion question: Is going organic worth the money for health advantages?
“Organic” does not mean “more nutritious”
Definitions of “organic” may vary, but here’s the basic idea: Organic foods include plants and animals grown or raised without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics, added hormones or ionizing radiation.
Research from 2012 suggests that organic foods are not significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. While they may reduce your exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the biggest difference for most foods is the price tag.
Going organic based on ethics, preferred farming methods or concern over pesticides is a valid personal choice. But if your main concern is nutritional value or other health factors, buying the following foods as organic may not be worth the extra expense.
The “clean 15” fruits and veggies
The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy public health organization, produces an annual guide to pesticides in produce.
“Hold the pesticides — but bring on the fat, sugar and calories. The organic debate extends beyond fresh foods into the realm of processed snacks. And once again, perception often trumps reality.”
The results are compiled after analyzing more than 28,000 samples of produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Based on the findings, the group produces a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables that are least likely to test positive for pesticide residues.
In other words, not only do these 15 fruits and vegetables pack the same nutritional punch in organic and non-organic varieties, you won’t cut your pesticide risk by opting for the more expensive option:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Sweet potatoes
How the cookie marketing crumbles
In a Cornell University study, researchers asked 115 adults to estimate the caloric content of two cookies, one labeled organic and the other regular. Participants assumed that the organic label came with not only a lower calorie count but also better nutritional value. They also said they were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for the organic cookie.
The catch: Both cookies were exactly the same. The lesson for consumers: Dig deeper than a simple label.
For example, checking the nutrition facts is a much better basis for nutritional comparison. In most cases, even if a cookie is made with organic ingredients, it’s still a high-calorie indulgence.
Brigid Titgemeier, Nutrition Assistant at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, contributed to this article.