What is the difference in nutrition of organic vs. not?

This is a great question. Much debate has been had over whether organic foods are “better” for you vs. conventional foods. Let me start by explaining the difference between the two. “Conventional” refers to produce that may be grown with the use of pesticides as part of the farming process. In order for a food to hold the USDA Organic label, it must be grown with natural fertilizers, like compost or manure. Conventional farming uses herbicides to manage weeds while organic farming uses crop rotation, hand weeding or mulch to deal with the weeds. In conventional farming, animals may be given growth hormones or antibiotics to help prevent disease. On organic farms, animals are given organic feed and allowed them access to outdoors. Organic farmers keep their animals on a balanced diet and provide them clean housing to help reduce chance of disease. So, as you can see, there are quite a few differences between conventional and organic farming.

I am frequently asked by my patients: “should I be consuming mostly organic foods?” I always carefully consider this question. My standard answer is: “if you can afford it, sure organic foods are great!” But I am quick to remind my patients that overall consumption of a mostly plant based diet is “great”, whether the plants are organic in nature or not. In other words, if you can’t afford organic produce, don’t let that deter you from purchasing conventional produce. I remind people that the nutrient composition of organic foods may be higher than conventional. But, the nutrient content for any fruit or vegetable is dependent on many things. Soil type, cropping system, variety, how much water they get, how much sun they get, when they are harvested, how long they sit in the supermarket…the list could really go on. There are so many factors.

If you are adamant about avoiding pesticides in food but simply cannot afford going all organic, the Environmental Working Group has put together a simple guide to help you out. It is called The Dirty Dozen (buy these organic) and The Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides). Examples of Dirty Dozen include: apples, spinach, peaches, strawberries, and sweet bell peppers. Examples of the Clean 15 include: sweet peas, pineapples, avocado, watermelon, grapefruit and onions. Another great option for reducing exposure to pesticides is to check out your local food! The cost may be better and the nutrient content of the food is usually higher, as the food is picked fresh and then sold to you soon after picking. I am a big fan of buying local because it is important to support our local businesses!

I only brushed the surface of all that is involved in making sure a food is truly organic. The USDA has presented a detailed explanation: Click here to read.

Regardless of which way you go (organic vs. conventional) remember that fruits and vegetables are such an important part of our diet. Try to eat as many as you can and also limit consumption of heavily processed foods and limit foods with added sugar!

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