Going Organic: Is It Worth It?

May 23, 2018

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blog_organicIt seems more Americans are “going organic” these days. Since 2007, organic food purchases have more than doubled, and have grown at eight times the rate of overall food purchases. It’s a stunning statistic as the cost of organic foods can reach up to 100 percent higher than their non-organic equivalents. So the big question is…

Is organic worth it?

What does “organic” mean?

A product designated “organic” means it has not been grown or produced with pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormones, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic can apply to all type of food products, especially fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat. Non-food items, such as household cleaning solvents and beauty and personal products, can be organic as well.

The argument for going organic

A 2017 study published in International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine believes adopting an organic food lifestyle justifies the costs. The study followed 3,256 respondents who were overweight or suffering from obesity as they switched to meal plans containing only non-GMO or organic food. More than half of the respondents showed improvements in their weight. Nearly 10% reported to have reached a healthy Body Mass Index while another 24% reported significant improvements in their weight and overall health.

Why was that?

Bigger isn’t always better

Even though organic and non-organic foods generally contain the same calorie counts, one of the hallmarks of processed foods, especially fruits and vegetables, is that they are typically larger than their organic counterparts. However, the volume of the food is deceptively cheating your body of a proper metabolic process and essential antioxidants.

Synthetic chemicals (such as hormones), pesticides, and preservatives are common ingredients of processed foods, but because the body can’t identify the nutritional value of these substances (hint: there are none), it views them as empty calories and may store them as fat. These enhanced processed fruits and vegetables actually contain the same or fewer antioxidants and vitamins as their smaller, organic counterparts. Essentially, you’re getting less nutrition out of each bite while consuming harmful ingredients that your body can’t recognize.

Better lifestyle decisions

Another reason why the study’s respondents could have lost the weight has to do with mindset. The purchasing of organic, non-GMO, and other “healthy” foods can encourage people to actively change their overall lifestyle. The higher cost of organic living may serve as an accountability motivator – you don’t want to waste hard-earned money if you’re not going to hold yourself responsible for making substantive lifestyle changes. This can include adopting other healthy habits like increased activity, better sleep hygiene and improved stress management.

The argument against organic

Some people believe that the cost of organic food is not justified because processed foods can contain the same level of antioxidants and vitamins. And while research points to the detrimental effects of pesticides and hormones, we do not know the full extent these substances may have on our body. There is also relativism to consider. The typical Western diet is characterized as high-calorie and loaded with bad fats, sugar, and sodium. Compared to a McDonald’s Big Mac, choosing an affordable non-organic apple seems like a pretty fair tradeoff.

What to avoid at all costs and what’s okay

Because budgets vary, not everyone can ensure their entire grocery haul is organic. However, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It is worth it to strike a balance by choosing the organic option of specific foods simply due to the level of harmful chemicals that can penetrate the food’s layers. For instance, fruits and vegetables with fragile outer skins, such as strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, and potatoes, are highly vulnerable to the unnatural effects of chemical processing. It’s best to avoid the non-organic versions of these foods if given the choice. On the other hand, some thick-skinned fruits and vegetables, like avocados, pineapple, cabbage, onions, and mangoes, have more natural protection against external chemicals. So choosing the more affordable non-organic version of them is probably okay.

Whether or not you’re willing to pay the higher cost for a product labelled “organic,” you should still be looking to consume more fruits and vegetables. Last year the CDC reported that an astounding 90% of Americans don’t have enough servings of fruits and vegetables throughout their day. If you fall into this group, you could be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. Ultimately, eating organic isn’t a total necessity, especially if it would come at the expense of eating a full range of fruits and vegetables. However, if you want to avoid the pesticides that are involved in the farming processes, going organic is right for you.

 

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