Are Organic Foods Really Better for You? Why All-Natural and Nutritional Are Not the Same

Are Organic Foods Really Better for You? Why All-Natural and Nutritional Are Not the Same

Organic foods are all the rage these days – appearing on food labels and menus as often as "antioxidant," "natural" and "gluten-free" – but there's a debate on whether organic is actually better for you. Part of the problem is that organic has become synonymous with nutritional, even though organic is referring to a production method, and nutrition is referring to the vitamins and substance of a food. 

The Atlantic's Brian Fung argued that the delineation between organic and nutritional is besides the point, and that organic is ultimately "healthier" for the environment because it promotes natural and sustainable farming. So is "organic" just a hackneyed marketing buzzword, or are there benefits to organically grown foods?

Read more: Americans Don't Actually Know What "Organic Food" Means — But They Buy It Anyway

In terms of avoiding pesticides, organic is safer.

MayoClinic noted that conventionally grown produce normally contains residue of synthetic pesticides used to protect crops from insects, molds and diseases. Organic produce, on the other hand, is grown using natural deterrents such as insect traps and predator insects. While the pesticide residue is supposed to be regulated so that it doesn't exceed government safety thresholds, Toxipedia noted that long-term exposure has been linked to neurological health issues like "asthma, allergies, and hypersensitivity" as well as "cancer, hormone disruption, and problems with reproduction and fetal development."

Nutrition-wise? They're pretty much the same.

In a 2012 study titled "Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review," researchers concluded "the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than [conventionally grown] foods."

Furthermore, the studied showed that while "the risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce," the differences were ultimately small.

Price-wise? It depends.

CNBC reported that Americans spent nearly $34 billion in 2014 purchasing produce that was purportedly grown using natural methods. But whether organic or inorganic, the consumer is ultimately concerned with price and shelf-life. 

One of the problems with organic produce is that, while it does taste "fresher," the lack of preservative and additives means it has the tendency to decompose more quickly – though this might have more to do with the pace of your consumption pace comparison to the amount you've purchased.

Furthermore, not all produce are treated the same when it comes to pesticides. HealthGuide.org delineated between produce with the highest pesticide levels (i.e., what you should consider buying organic) with produce with the lowest.