I have pondered over this question ever since I began studying nutrition. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on the topic, which makes sense! The answer is not so black and white, yes or no. It will depend on access to local options, budget, health priorities, and more, so the answer ultimately comes down to the individual. I can tell you that personally, I try to purchase majority organic items when I grocery shop. Let's talk about what it means for a product to be organic.
There is a difference between "Organic" and "USDA Organic". Organic means the product was made with some but not all organic ingredients and USDA organic means all ingredients in that product are 100% organic. For a product to carry the USDA organic seal, it must meet the following criteria:
Produce has been grown on soil without prohibited substance applied to it for 3 years (these include most, not all, synthetic fertilizers).
Animals are raised in their natural living conditions like grazing on fields, fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not grown with antibiotics or hormones.
Nothing grown with genetically modified organisms (GMO's).
No artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Now, we have a lot of people to feed in America. The average American eats nearly 2,000 pounds of food each year (chew on that number for a sec)! In order to produce enough food for the country, some farmers choose not to use organic practices in order to produce more yield. The synthetic fertilizers can increase crop yield and lower the amount of harmful pests and bacteria living on the food.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when thinking about the question of organic vs. non-organic. Here are a couple reasons to consider buying organic:
Reason #1 - Helping local farmers.
A lot of organic produce and meats come from local farms. As humans developed over the centuries, this is mostly how we got our food! Either by growing it ourselves or by getting it from your local community. By purchasing from places like co-ops and farmers markets, you are putting more money into the pockets of the farmers growing the crops and raising the livestock. Even many grocery stores choose to partner with local farmers to stock their organic product shelves.
Reason #2 - Help rebuild the soil.
The food we eat these days contains fewer vitamins and minerals than it did even 50 years ago due to the quality of the soil. Farmers not abiding by organic standards put synthetic chemicals into the soil which degrades the microbiome within the soil. A healthy soil microbiome results in better tasting, more nutrient dense produce. Buying organic helps to keep our soil healthy and produce healthier crops.
"In the last five years, there has been an awakening of the realization of how critical that life in the soil is to our life" – Ron Nichols, USDA
Reason #3 - Healthier for your gut.
As stated in reason #2, synthetic chemicals damage the health of the soil microbiome and these chemicals are carried all the way into your belly when you eat the food. Pesticides and herbicides don't know the difference between good and bad bacteria, they just destroy bacteria! This can result in damage to the microbiome within your gut, potentially destroying healthy bacteria. Click here to read our blog post on the benefits of a healthy gut microbiome.
Reason #4 - No antibiotics or growth hormones.
Just as synthetic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides can be transferred to your body, so too can antibiotics and growth hormones be transferred via meat consumption. These amounts are small but can very easily add up over time and have negative affects on the body. Organic livestock are also fed the diets that nature intended for them, not a diet meant to make them fat and large in order to yield more from the animals. These animals are generally given better care than factory-raised livestock.
Buying organic may be a bit more expensive, but it can help local farmers, repair our soil, and keep your body healthier through more micronutrients and fewer synthetic chemicals. If health longevity is a top priority for you then maybe buying organic is the best decision for you. If money is tight or you don't have great access to organic products, buying some or no organic products may be the better choice. Whichever decision you make, remember that whole foods from the Earth, regardless of organic status, are ALWAYS the best choice for the body.
If you found this article helpful or informative, sharing it with family and friends truly helps us get quality nutrition information to as many people as possible. All it takes is a quick copy and paste of the website URL ;)
Braeden Yacobucci, RDN/RD, LD, CF-OL1
Cara Barton, OTR/L, PN1, CF-L1