Organic vs. Non Organic Foods

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Today, most whole foods are commonly available in two options: organic or nonorganic. When deciding which to choose, there are two main questions to consider: (1) Are organic foods more nutritious? (2) Are organic foods safer?


Are Organic Foods More Nutritious?

Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than nonorganic alternatives (i.e. contain more nutrients and minerals), organic foods are not more nutritious than nonorganic foods. According to the systematic review entitled “Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives,” organic and nonorganic foods are comparable in their nutrient content.1 Therefore, based on nutritional content alone, organic foods are not better than nonorganic alternatives.


Are Organic Foods Safer?

The real issue to consider when deciding whether or not to buy organic is safety. The safety issues include the use of pesticides/herbicides, antibiotics, and hormones. Conventional farmers use pesticides to kill pests and herbicides to kill weeds. Additionally, many animals are given antibiotics and hormones to prevent disease and promote growth, respectively. As a result, nonorganic fruits and vegetables are generally exposed to more pesticides/herbicides than organic foods, and nonorganic meats often contain more antibiotics and hormones. According to the President’s Cancer Panel, pesticides/herbicides may increase the risk for certain cancers. Therefore, the panel advises consumers to choose foods grown without chemical fertilizers and to thoroughly wash conventionally grown foods to remove pesticide/herbicide residues.2

The main problem with simply washing conventional foods to remove pesticides is that pesticides are not just on the surface of foods. Consequently, washing can only remove a certain proportion of pesticides. Fruits with permeable skin and green leafy vegetables tend to absorb the highest quantity of pesticides. The following fruits and vegetables are collectively known as the “dirty dozen plus.” They contain the highest quantity of pesticides/herbicides that cannot simply be washed away. By choosing organic versions of these particular fruits and vegetables, you can reduce your pesticide exposure by nearly 80 percent.


Dirty Dozen Plus

Fruits (Fruits That You Eat the Skin) Vegetables (Green Leafy Vegetables)
Apples Celery
Blueberries Collard Greens
Grapes Cucumbers
Nectarines Green Beans
Peaches Kale
Strawberries Leafy Greens
Sweet Bell Peppers

EMG’s Nutrition Homepage: How to Eat Healthy

1. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. Sep 2012; 157 (5): 348-366.
2. Reuben SH. Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. 2010.