The organic food industry is expanding at a rapid rate, more than 10% increases year over year, making it a $43 billion industry as of early 2017. Even though organic food still makes up just 5% of the overall food sales market in the United States, the industry is having a much larger impact on our psyche than overall market share would suggest.
It’s often thought that foods labeled “organic,” “non-GMO,” “free range,” and “grass fed” are safer, better tasting, and more nutritious. However, multiple legitimate scientific studies show no difference between organic and non-organic foods.
Palomar Health registered dietitian/nutritionist Janice Baker is often asked questions about the pros and cons of buying organic during personal consultations and nutrition education classes. She says there is nothing wrong with eating organic if you can afford the extra cost, but there isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest organic foods are more healthful or nutritious than conventional foods.
Here are eight factors to consider when purchasing organics:
#1: Organic food may cost more
“I work with many people who find it confusing to sort out marketing messages versus actual nutrition facts,” says Baker. “People want to be able to control their own health. Marketing messages and labeling promotes a sense of control.”
Baker says she has many patients on limited incomes visit her for a consultation. They are always happy to learn that you can eat healthfully without paying a premium price.
“For people to think they have to pay a higher price to eat more healthfully is a shame,” Baker says, adding “if you have the good fortune of no budget constraints, of course your choices are fine either way.”
#2 Non-organics are nutritious
“We need to consider the marketing of organics,” Baker says. “Insinuating you are eating poorly if you aren’t eating organic is a form of shaming.”
Canned and frozen foods can be very nutritious, Baker says. They are very convenient and easy to prepare for those who need smaller portions or have limited refrigeration/freezer space.
#3 Conventional foods are safe
Food marketing has created a lot of fear mongering regarding the safety of non-organic foods, Baker says.
“Food handling practices like washing, preparation and storage have a lot more to do with safety than organic versus conventional,” Baker says.
Baker points out “natural” doesn’t always mean good or safe. For example, some naturally occurring herbs, unregulated supplements (as well as poison mushrooms) can be toxic and harmful.
#4 Organic farmers use pesticides
This may be the most misunderstood organic farming practice.
“Organic food does use chemical products to kill insects, microbes and fungus… many of which may be harmful to human health in large quantities,” Baker says, adding that conventional farming has proven to be very safe.
#5 Preservatives don’t cause weight gain
“Food preservatives help us to not get sick,” Baker says, but they don’t make us gain weight. “Weight management issues are complex, and blaming this on a singular factor, food, or food ingredient is adding to confusion and harm in this area.”
“If you blame preservatives (for gaining weight), you are not looking in the right place,” Baker says.
#6 Conventional foods don’t proliferate allergies
Food allergy screening tests are much more sophisticated nowadays, Baker says. The rise of modern day allergies may be attributed to our ability to detect them. Baker also warns of unscrupulous alternative medical practitioners falsely detecting allergies.
#7 Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are safe
“There is nothing that convinces me that GMO is harmful in any way,” Baker says.
In fact, Baker says, rice has been modified to increase Vitamin A to keep people from going blind in some third world countries.
Food has also been modified to keep it free from disease and produce more quantity, making it more accessible to people all around the world.
“Organic food methods cannot feed all the people on this planet,” Baker says.
#8 Organic farming methods are no better for the environment
When surveyed, many people cite environmental benefits as a main reason for buying organic. Because organic farming needs more animals and land to provide the same amount of food as conventional farming, it might not be any more environmentally friendly.
“I am all about eating a more plant-based diet, but if you eat chicken, beef and fish in moderation, you should be fine with the environment,” she says.