A Happy, Healthy Family


Is Organic Really Worth It?

Most of us know of the supposed benefits of organic food by now, but sometimes it's hard to justify the extra cost of organic produce, meats, and dairy, especially when organic food is so expensive and is often smaller and more perishable than foods produced by conventional methods.

What "Organic" Means
According to organic.org"organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones." Sewage sludge?? Yikes.

Basically, if something has received the USDA organic seal, you can be guaranteed that it has been grown without these pesticides and other harmful practices (FYI--MiracleGro is not organic, for those of you growing your own produce in home gardens, so be careful if you're trying to grow organic foods).

If a processed food is labeled "organic" (but without the seal), that means that 95% of the ingredients in the food are organic.

And no, "natural" and "organic" do not mean the same thing, so read packages carefully!

Is Organic Food More Nutritious?
The jury is still out on that one--some researchers believe that organic foods have a higher nutrient content--but it is certain that organic foods are less harmful for you than foods produced via conventional methods.

What's So Bad about Conventional Food Production?
Think about it: conventional farming uses pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides to keep produce "healthy," but then we are eating all of those poisons. Over time, those toxins build up in our bodies, contributing to the following issues:

increased risk of cancer

developmental delays in children like impaired cognitive function and behavioral problems

hormone disruption

skin, eye, and lung irritation

As for meats and dairy, when animals are given growth hormones to produce more milk for longer periods of time or to create bigger cuts of meat, we also eventually consume those growth hormones. A major effect of this practice is the early onset of menses in young girls.

And meats and dairy aren't the only foods subjected to growth hormones--why do you think organic produce is so much smaller than non-organic produce?

A daily diet of toxins and growth hormones just seems like a bad idea, doesn't it?

Now, it is worth noting that the levels of pesticide residues found on conventional produce are within the guidelines of what the EPA deems safe, but what is unknown is how long-term exposure to these residues can affect our health. And nearly all of us are affected by this overuse of pesticides. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study in which pesticides were detected in 96% of the blood and urine samples of over 5,000 Americans age 6 and older. Pesticides in our blood and urine?? That can't be good for us.

So What's Worth It, and What Isn't?
The main reason that organic food costs more than foods grown by conventional methods is the higher cost of organic growing practices. Not all produce has to be organic, though. 

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes up with a list of the Dirty Dozen, the foods that test highest for pesticide residue, and the Clean Fifteen, the foods that test the lowest.

Here is this year's list (you can find a full list at the EWG web site, linked at the bottom of this post):

What About Those Produce Washes on Pinterest and in Stores?
General rinsing/washing of all fruits and vegetables, whether organic or non-organic, is the best way to clean them, but "produce washes" don't necessarily get rid of pesticide residue. Pesticides often seep into the skin of fruits and vegetables, which is how produce that has been washed and even peeled can test positive for them. One concern with organic produce is bacteria from the manure used to fertilize organic crops, so be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables well, and don't believe that a homemade or commercial produce wash is ridding your non-organic food of pesticides.

What's the Bottom Line?
Ultimately, it's better to buy conventionally-grown produce rather than no produce at all, so if you just can't afford organic foods, don't skip the produce section completely! If you want to try to steer clear of the Dirty Dozen and buy organic there, see if you can trim other expensive processed foods from your grocery list, or if there is one "dirty" food you eat every day (like strawberries), make it a point to go organic there, even if your other produce is non-organic.

It's also a great idea to check out your local farmers' markets, as many of the vendors there use organic farming methods (you'll have to ask them, of course), and their prices may be cheaper than those you'll find in a grocery store.

You have to make the decision about where to draw the line as far as just how organic to go and what you can afford, but more research is pointing to the fact that, at least with some foods, conventional growing methods are not only harmful but even scary.

To find out more about this issue, visit the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org.


  1. Unfortunately, a lot of families I know, can barely afford to go to the grocery store. They grow as much produce as they can in their back yards, eliminate meat, and yet still have no other option but to have to feed empty calories as a main source of nutrition. So how do we help them? No their children do not even get donuts, juice, candy, chocolate, or the sad pop tart. They can't even afford to buy those "luxuries". Their fresh fruit comes from the discount section. To feed a family of four on a maybe $50 a week budget, what are they to do? This is a serious question. I hear this struggle every week. Friends so frustrated that they can't feed their family better. No government assistance. They are not uneducated but our economy and foods available are killing us. So anyway, here is my challenge. How is it possible for them?

    1. Thanks for the question! As I mentioned in the post, if organic foods are cost prohibitive, then, by all means, go for conventionally-grown produce. I would suggest making as much food as possible from scratch--that means sandwich bread, muffins, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, soups, etc. I buy nutrient-dense pantry staples like oats, whole wheat flour, brown rice, black beans, and quinoa in bulk, and those make excellent foundations for meals. Buy fresh produce in season when it will be cheapest, and buy it in bulk and freeze the extras. Don't shy away from frozen produce, either, which is often just as healthy as fresh. Stores like Trader Joe's and Aldi run great deals on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as well. A breakfast of homemade oatmeal topped with a sliced banana is going to be cheaper than boxed cereal and far more nutritious. A big pot of vegetarian chili bulked up with beans (cooked at home, not canned), brown rice, and frozen vegetables can feed a family for several nights. Sweet potatoes topped with beans and vegetables are another cheap, nutrient-dense item than can serve as a main dish.