Whole Foods and Organic Foods…Is it Worth the Extra Money?

June 19th, 2011

There is no exact, “one-size fit all” definition for value, except when you are  comparing two exact same things and the only difference is the price…then the lower priced offer is clearly better value!

Unfortunately, this is not the case when trying to compare organically grown products vs. conventionally grown products, and whether or not they are worth, the sometimes substantial, increased cost.

First let’s look at the facts as they exist now:

1- Studies have shown that organic foods, in general, do not have greater “nutritional” values than conventionally grown foods (i.e. do not have larger amounts of nutrients like vitamins and minerals)

2-  Studies have shown that organic foods do have lower numbers and amounts of pesticide residues

3-  Surveys as to whether or not organic foods taste better are mixed and non-conclusive.

From a health perspective (eliminating other motivating economic or long term environmental concerns, if any), the most likely benefit of eating organic food products would be derived due to reduced exposure to pesticide residues.

It is important to remember that the term “organic” does not mean “NO” pesticide levels, it assures reduced pesticide levels. (pesticides can remain in the soil and enter foods even when no synthetic pesticides are used).

We are also making the “pretty good” but not guaranteed assumption, that the natural pesticides used are safer than the synthetic pesticides .

The government sets what it considers to be safe levels of pesticides allowable in food products, whether they are organic or not.  So if measuring safety via the government’s definition, most food products like fruits and vegetables, whether organic or not, are safe.

The question that arises is:  “If organic food products have lower numbers of different pesticides and lower amounts of each of these pesticides, aren’t they safer?”

The answer to this question is:  “Probably, Maybe,…..We really don’t know!”

A frustrating answer…I know, but there just aren’t any long term studies in humans demonstrating that groups of people who are long term consumers of organic food products have less diseases like cancer.  Common sense says that less of a “bad” thing is “good” and I agree with this logic but it, alas, is just an opinion.  We all know that sugar is not great for health but does eliminating it completely from your diet reduce disease risk vs. someone who just consumes modest amounts of it?.  We just don’t know.

So to get back to our original question:  “Are organic products worth the extra money they cost?”

If the whole concept of organic farming appeals to you and you like the idea of consuming less pesticides, even though it may or may not provide any meaningful extra health benefits, then the extra money is worth the peace of mind.

On the other hand, if you are on a budget and need to watch your dollars, then BY ALL MEANS, BUY REGULARLY GROWN FRUITS AND VEGETABLE.  THEIR HEALTH BENEFITS FAR OUT WEIGHT ANY POTENTIAL RISK FROM HIGHER PESTICIDE LEVELS!

Curt Hendrix, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.

RELATED:  What Are The Healthiest Holiday Foods?