I am going to admit that while we eat a lot of fruits and veggies in my house, I can’t always bring myself to buy organic. I try to, but sometimes certain foods are just too expensive or unavailable in my area. Still, it’s always in the back of my head that it would be “better” if we bought more organic produce, but is it actually more nutritionally sound?
According to a new study, it depends. There is no magic change that makes foods healthier when they are grown organic. NPR did an excellent job breaking this down into layman’s terms:
Some previous studies have looked at specific organic foods and found that they contain higher levels of important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. We’ve reported on one particularly ambitious experiment, which is supposed to go on for a hundred years, comparing plots of organic and conventional tomatoes. After 10 years, the researchers found that tomatoes raised in the organic plots contained significantly higher levels of certain antioxidant compounds.
But this is one study of one vegetable in one field. And when the Stanford researchers looked at their broad array of studies, which included lots of different crops in different situations, they found no such broad pattern.
Here’s the basic reason: When it comes to their nutritional quality, vegetables vary enormously, and that’s true whether they are organic or conventional. One carrot in the grocery store, for instance, may have two or three times more beta carotene (which gives us vitamin A) than its neighbor. That’s due to all kinds of things: differences in the genetic makeup of different varieties, the ripeness of the produce when it was picked, even the weather.
So there really are vegetables that are more nutritious than others, but the dividing line between them isn’t whether or not they are organic. “You can’t use organic as your sole criteria for judging nutritional quality,” says Smith-Spangler.
On the other hand, as NPR goes on to point out, there are pesticide restrictions on organic food that make them more appealing for consumers beyond the nutritional aspects. Still, organic is a slippery label; it gets slapped on so many things that it becomes a shorthand for healthy (as an aside, so has “kosher“). There are many good reasons for picking organic in the grocery store if you know the food has been grown and treated with less chemicals, but it may not be worth picking organic from Shop Rite over non-organic from the local farmer.
Do you buy organic? Has this study surprised you? Will it alter your shopping habits? Let us know in the comments!