If you’re trying to get to the bottom of all the current arguments about whether organic food is better for you, the first thing you might consider is just arming yourself with some facts.
What Makes that Orange Organic?
Maybe a better question is to ask is, what is not organic?
If the product in your hands is labeled “natural,” “free-range,” or “hormone free” – you are about to purchase something that isn’t organic. These are just food labeling terms, and law does not regulate them.
What the law does regulate is the certification program that allows something to be called “organic.” The U.S Department of Agriculture created the organic seal required to be on an organic product’s label. Products bearing that seal are required to be grown, harvested and processed following national standards. These standards include strict limitations on amounts of residues of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. They also must not be treated with synthetic pesticides, or ionizing radiation. (They can, however, be treated with naturally occurring substances that repel pests.)
So, let’s say you actually do have a USDA certified organic product in your hands. If you buy it and eat it, is it better for you than its counterpart that was cultivated using conventional means?
Organic Food is Safer for You
Fruits and vegetables grown organically are not treated with synthetic herbicides, fungicides or insecticides; nor were they grown using synthetic fertilizer. These chemical substances become part of the food, which you then ingest. If food is imported from other countries that have weaker (or even nonexistent) pesticide regulation, you could be eating food that has been treated with substances that are outlawed in the U.S. because they have been scientifically proven to be harmful to humans.
Does Organic Food Have a Higher Nutritional Value?
There is no definitive answer to this at the present time, other than a few supporting studies reporting that organic fruit and vegetables have slightly higher levels of vitamin C, as well as trace minerals. The term “higher” is relative, however. The differences are so slight that it is arguable as to whether a diet of only organic foods would provide a benefit.
Organic produce does have a much higher healthful impact on our environment, though. Organic methods of farming pay attention to the health of the soil, emphasizing the return of organic matter to it, as well as preserving local and heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise disappear.
Consequently, if you follow the thought process that the environment influences your health, you can agree that eating organic is better for you – even though it may not necessarily be more nutritional for you.
The One Thing On Which Everyone Agrees
There is one nutritional certainty, though. If you want to get the most from the fruit and vegetables you consume, eat them while they’re fresh. And because organic food is not grown or processed using preservatives, they have a significantly shorter shelf life. What this means is that the organic fruit and vegetables you see for sale at your grocery store were picked just a short while ago – and they’re at the peak of their freshness. With no preservatives added, any organic product has to get to markets quickly, be sold quickly, and consumed very soon afterwards. In that respect, if you are eating something organic, it’s most likely been put into your hands at a point where its nutritional value is at its peak.
Everything loses nutrients as it ages. Nutrients such as vitamin C oxidize over time, which means even if it’s not organic food, you’re losing nutritional benefits from that orange as it sits uneaten in your refrigerator.
While the argument about whether organic food is better for you rages on, you can decide right now if you like the idea of consuming less chemicals from conventional fertilizer and pesticides, as well as supporting production systems that are less impactful to the environment. If that’s the case, organic food is a choice for you.