Organic food sales are on the rise. According to the Organic Trade Association, consumer demand for organics has grown by double-digits every year for over a decade. Increasing consumer demand for organic foods has caught the attention of everyone from specialized health food markets to big box stores and even discount grocers.
Every day, more and more people are seeking out the organic label in grocery stores across the country, sometimes paying a premium for foods they believe are “healthier.”
But is it, really?
Is Organic Food Healthier?
Organic food is not necessarily lower in sugar, fat, or calories compared to conventional food. So if you’re strictly looking at calorie count or grams of sugar, organic may not come out on top.
But if your definition of healthier is food that has less chemicals, than the answer is a resounding “yes”; organic food really is healthier.
An analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which examined over 343 peer-reviewed studies, concluded that organic foods had:
- Higher levels of beneficial antioxidants
- Lower levels of pesticide residues
- Lower levels of nitrogen compounds and cadmium, a potentially toxic metal.
Organic Fruits and Vegetables Have More Nutrients
An orange is an orange, right? Studies have shown some mixed results when it comes to the nutrients of organically grown versus conventionally grown produce, but many of the results suggest organic foods have higher levels of antioxidants and micronutrients such as vitamins C.
Antioxidants are compounds that work in your body to fight free radical damage that has been linked to aging, illness, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.
You could get the equivalent of 20%- 40% more antioxidants in your diet just by switching to organic fruits and vegetables. In fact, one study found antioxidant levels as much as 69% higher in organic crops compared to conventionally grown.
Organic vs Non-organic: What’s the Difference?
Food that is certified organic must be grown or produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, antioxidants, and fertilizers, and be free from genetic engineering (GMOs), ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge.
Organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved processing methods for crops and livestock. (Animals raised organically are not given antibiotics or hormones.)
In order to be labeled as organic, a food product must also be free of artificial food additives such as artificial sweeteners, flavorings, colors, and preservatives.
To carry the USDA Certified Organic Seal, foods must be verified to meet the following standards:
Organic crops. The USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used.
Organic livestock. The USDA organic seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.
Organic multi-ingredient foods. The USDA organic seal verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content. If the label claims that it was made with specified organic ingredients, you can be sure that those specific ingredients are certified organic.
So if your idea of eating healthier is reducing the amount of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and artificial additives in your food, then organic food may certainly be the healthier choice for you.
Should You Eat Organic?
To put it simply, anyone can benefit from eating organic. But some people can benefit even more.
The most popular synthetic pesticide used in the world today, RoundUp, is a glyphosate-based herbicide. The World Health Organization categorized it as probably carcinogenic to humans. Since organically grown produce contains lower levels of herbicides, making it a healthier choice for those with less than healthy immune systems.
Children are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposure while their brains are developing. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report recommending organic food for children due to convincing evidence of lower exposures to pesticides and less contamination of livestock with drug-resistant bacteria.
Millennial Parents More Likely to Buy Organic Food
Parents in the 18-34 year old range age range are now the biggest group of organic buyers in America, according to survey on the organic buying habits of US households. Among US parents, 52% of organic buyers are millennials.
“Our survey shows that Millennial parents seek out organic because they are more aware of the benefits of organic, that they place a greater value on knowing how their food was grown and produced, and that they are deeply committed to supporting a food system that sustains and nurtures the environment,” says Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association.
If you’ve been considering turning to organic foods to make a healthier choice for you and your family, there’s no better time to start. Whether you want foods that have higher levels of beneficial antioxidant and nutrients, or want to reduce your exposure to potentially toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides, organic foods can definitely be a healthier choice.