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Is Organic Food Really Better?

Statesman Journal Living Well – Mar 2015

These days, it seems everyone’s talking about “going organic.” But is organic food really better for you than food that is conventionally grown?

What qualifies as “organic?”

Organic growth of agricultural products such as vegetables, grains, fruits, dairy products, and meat involves farming practices which actively encourage water and soil conservation and reduce pollution. Organic farmers also use natural fertilizers, rotate crops or use mulch to manage weeds, and do not use pesticides.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has organic certification standards that regulate how organic foods must be grown, handled, and processed. Products cannot be labeled as organic unless they are USDA-certified. This earns them the right to display the USDA seal, as long as they are greater than 95 percent organic.

Are “organic” and “natural” the same thing?

No. The terms “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. Some food labels may make claims that their products are “natural,” “all natural,” “hormone-free” or “free-range.” While truthful, don’t confuse these statements with the term “organic.” Foods only qualify as organic if they are grown and processed according to USDA standards. A product can be both natural and organic, or it could be just one or the other.

So is organic food more nutritious?

The answer is not 100% certain, though several studies have been performed and more are in progress. However, the processes by which organic meats and produce are grown are reported to result in more nutrient-rich foods. For instance, the use of fast-growth fertilizers in conventional growing means that plants spend more of their energy on getting as large as possible, while less energy is allocated to building nutrients.

Why do people choose to buy organic food?

Food additives. Many people are concerned with a growing number of growth hormones, artificial sweeteners, and other additives commonly used in conventional foods. The use of these additives–as well as processing aids, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and fortifying agents–is restricted or banned under organic regulations. Many recent studies have shown the negative impact too much of these substances can have on our health.

Pesticides. Conventional farmers make use of synthetic pesticides to protect their crops from insects, diseases and molds. These pesticides can leave a residue on produce. Organic growers, however, utilize tactics such as predator insects, insect traps, beneficial microorganisms, and careful crop selection (disease-resistant varieties) to control crop-damaging pests. Since organic foods typically carry less pesticide residue than conventionally grown foods, many shoppers feel more comfortable buying organic products. However, the residue on most products does not exceed government safety thresholds, whether organic or not. 

Environment. Organic farming practices keep the environment in mind. They are designed to protect the environment by conserving water and soil quality and reducing pollution.

Are there any cons?

Cost. Organic foods tend to be priced higher than conventional foods, because organic growing practices are more expensive.

Shelf-life. Organic products are not treated with preservatives or waxes, so they may be quicker to spoil.

Appearance. Although organic foods are held to the same quality and safety standards of conventional foods, you may find that the produce comes in varying colors, sizes, and shapes.

Remember, whether you buy organic or nonorganic produce, make sure to wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. This helps remove bacteria, dirt, and chemical residue.

Some types of conventionally grown produce tend to be contaminated with higher levels of pesticide residue than others. If you’re not ready to go wholly organic for budget or other reasons, you may consider organic purchases of some of the most commonly contaminated fruits and vegetables.

Most commonly contaminated:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Bell Peppers

Less commonly contaminated:

  • Bananas
  • Cauliflower
  • Cranberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes – Domestic
  • Green Beans
  • Oranges
  • Peppers
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Summer Squash
  • Tangerines
  • Winter Squash

Least commonly contaminated:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet Corn
  • Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Potato
  • Watermelon


Genny Baldwin, RN
Chief Nursing Officer
Santiam Hospital

About Santiam Hospital

Santiam Hospital & Clinics is a not-for-profit, 40 bed acute-care hospital located in Stayton, Oregon, which is a short 12-mile drive east of Salem, and serves more than 30,000 people annually from the communities of Stayton, Sublimity, Aumsville, Mill City, Jefferson, and the surrounding areas.

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  1401 North 10th Ave.
Stayton, OR 97383

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