Organic Food; Is It Worth The Extra Dollar?



Organic food is becoming increasingly popular,  Canada has seen an increase in 20% over the last couple of years but there are still questions and confusion around organic food and whether it is really worth the extra dollar.  Choosing to buy organic is a personal choice; some people choose organic foods for their health , nutrition, taste, the environment and or to support sustainable farmers.  There are many studies that state eating organic reduces our exposure to pesticides. But when it comes to the nutritional benefits research has been limited ,  but new research is suggesting there are significant benefits.

 What is organic food?

Organic foods are grown and produced without the use of artificial  pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones and or genetically modified organisms. Instead organic farmers use renewable resources to enhance soil fertility and diversity.

 How can I tell  if a food is produced organically?

In June 2009 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) implemented new regulations for organic foods. Any food certified organic including fruit, vegetables, meat, grains, and dairy must  be at least 95 % organic and certified by an accredited certification body and inspected annually. Organic foods that adhere and meet strict standards display the Canada Organic Biologique logo . Food imported into Canada must also follow the same regulations and may chose to  use an organic followed by country of origin. More than 50 % of Canadian organic produce is imported.

organic canadian logo

 Is organic food more nutritious ?

Up until now there have been very few studies to suggest that organic food is more nutritious.  Recently , the British Journal of Nutrition, published a study that suggested organic fruit and vegetables have significantly higher levels of  phytochemicals , a natural occurring plant compound, which has both antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Foods high in antioxidants have been linked  to reduced risk of heart disease, blood pressure, and healthy aging . So why do organic crops contain higher levels of antioxidants in comparison to their conventional counterparts, the theory more environmental stress. Conventional foods are grown with synthetic fertilizers , pesticides, and genetically modified organisms to resist harsh environmental stress. Furthermore,  many studies have found higher levels of lycopene in organic tomatoes, which play a protective role in prostate cancer.

There are many factors that affect the nutrient content of food such as soil, climate,  crop variety, ripeness, as well as storage and processing. It is estimated that food both conventional and organic may travel 1500 miles from farm to plate.

However, foods that are local, seasonal and grown using sustainable farming  methods are believed to be nutritionally superior.

What about dairy and meat, is organic better?

Most studies around nutrition and organic foods have been around vegetables and fruit.  Recently, more studies have started to emerge around organic meat and dairy.

In Canada, growth hormones are not permitted in dairy cattle. However, if you are in the United States they are allowed to use growth hormones.

If the dairy cow needs antibiotics for an illness the milk is discarded  until the cow no longer needs antibiotics.  On the other hand, conventional raised beef is allowed growth hormones and antibiotics; where as organically raised cattle are free of growth hormones and antibiotics.  Studies do suggest that organic milk and organic  meat contain a better balance of omega 6:omega 3 fatty acid ratio; which may help protect against certain cancers and reduce inflammation. Why the better omega fatty acid ratio, organic cattle are required to roam the pasture for 30 % of their life and feed off the pasture. Another difference is organic cattle are feed only organic feed , usually grains containing corn and soy but free of pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms.

Are all organic foods considered healthier options ?

Organic  does not necessarily mean “healthy”, there are many processed foods on the market that are labelled organic. Like conventional packaged foods,  packaged organic foods  may have added sodium, sugar, and or food additives which offer very little health benefits. Its important to read the ingredient list and not focus on claims.

 Is organic food safer?

Some people chose to buy organic food because they are concerned about pesticides and fertilizer in their food. There are several study’s that do suggest organic foods have lower pesticide residue.  It is important to thoroughly wash and scrub the outer skin of all vegetables and fruit before eating.

Organic food is more expensive what do you suggest?

Organic food is more expensive because it is more time consuming and there is less production with each crop.  To help save you money  buy food that is in season, buy bulk, purchase the organic produce from the dirty dozen list, and check for sales.

The environmental working group (EWG)  has developed a “dirty dozen” list of vegetables and fruit that contain high pesticide levels, often the skin is consumed or is permeable. Unfortunately, most of these fruits and vegetables are a favorite with children. On the other hand, the EWG has a” clean fifteen” list of fruits and vegetables that contained very little pesticide residue, avocado being the cleanest.

Dirty Dozen                                                      Clean Fifteen

 1). Apples                                                        1). Avocado

2). Strawberries                                            2). Asparagus

3). Grapes                                                        3). Cabbage

4). Peaches                                                     4). Pineapple

5). Nectarines, imported                          5). Mango

6). Cucumbers                                               6). Sweet peas ( frozen)

7). Cherry tomatoes                                   7). Onion

8). Snap peas                                                  8). Papaya

9). Spinach                                                    9). Kiwi

10). Celery                                                     10). Pineapple

11). Sweet bell peppers                             11). Grapefruit

12). Potatoes                                                12). Eggplant

13). Sweet potato

14). Cantaloupe

15). Cauliflower

If you are buying organic food for health reasons and are on a budget you may want to chose to buy the “dirty dozen” organic.

What’s my opinion

That’s a tough question as there are so many factors to consider taste, seasonal, nutrition, cost, farming practices, environment, and distance traveled. I wish  everyone could afford to buy local organic food but unfortunately cost is a major barrier.

For the most part I try to buy local food and enjoy going to the farmers markets during the summer months.  Food that is seasonal is picked at their peak harvest and travels less distance , thus more nutritional bang for your buck.  Furthermore, many farmers do not use pesticides and follow organic farming practices but find the process lengthy and costly. Get to know your farmer, you and your family will learn a thing or two.

 Bottom line

Fill your plate with fresh colorful vegetables and fruit daily. Research has shown eating a variety of vegetables and fruit is beneficial and outweighs the risk of consuming conventionally grown produce.

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