There seems to be quite a number of opinions going around when the subject of organic vs. conventional products is raised. The variety of opinions even among experts often causes greater confusion for the average consumer. There are more products than ever before in the marketplace. It is reasonable to expect that more products will continue to flood the market in the coming years. With the expanding options in the aisles of grocery stores, we face the ongoing challenge of making a purchasing decision. The process of choosing wisely is just not easy. Many are asking how am I to choose?
Here are some things to consider as you seek to make choices that are best for you:
Recent data shows that the organic market is growing at a steady pace of nearly 20 percent annually. Organic alternatives are found in most every grocery aisle--making everything from snack foods to frozen meals to dairy products to baked goods. "Everyone wants to be healthy and these foods convey an aura of health," says Marion Nestle, PhD, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat. Here, experts compare some of the benefits and drawbacks of going organic.
Organic vs. Conventional
Many studies continue to be conducted and as the results are shared with us, we will try to make the choices that are right for us. A few small studies have shown that some organic foods contain higher nutrient levels than conventional ones. For example, a recent study showed that organic ketchup had 57 percent more of the antioxidant lycopene than regular ketchup. However, a sweeping claim that organics across the board are more nutritious than conventional is ahead of the science. "More research is needed before it can be stated that organic foods provide more nutritional value," says Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, director of university nutrition at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Here is some good news worthy of your attention: organic foods may offer another level of benefits. Charles Benbrook, PhD, chief scientist at The Organic Center (www.organic-center.org), asserts that some organic products are less processed, which means they may contain fewer chemically adulterated ingredients (think hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives).
What to Do
"Read labels and look at each product in its own right," Benbrook says. An organic potato chip may contain as many calories and saturated fat grams as a conventional chip. "The price premiums associated with processed organic food are not as great as the premiums charged for organic whole foods," Benbrook says.
Are organic products healthier for the environment? What's best for the environment is hotly debated among experts. "There is no scientifically accepted evidence that organic foods are better for the environment. Organic production allows natural pesticides, which can be toxic to humans and wildlife," says Alan McHughen, PhD, professor of botany and plant sciences at the University of California, Riverside. Organic fertilizers may also contain harmful bacteria, such as E. coli.
It is estimated that organic farming yields only 75 to 90 percent of the crop of conventional systems, meaning that more land must be planted in order to have an equal return.
Organic advocates counter that thinking and say that chemicals used in conventional farming spread far beyond the fields where they are applied and have unintended consequences. "Synthetic pesticides have been linked to developmental and neurological problems," Benbrook says. "Organics eliminate synthetic pesticides and the damage they do to farmers, land, and drinking water." Organic regulations also prohibit the use of genetic modification?another thorny issue with as-yet unclear implications for the environment.
On a personal level you should focus on foods' benefit to your immediate environment?i.e. your body?first. "A good diet means variety, balance, and moderation, regardless of the farming method that produced the food," McHughen says. This conversation will certainly be continued in the meantime...happy shopping!