Many shoppers assume organic products are more nutritious and safer to eat, but these perceptions are based more on hype than hard science.
“Some supporters of organic food production promote it as being ‘better’ without any supporting science,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the Pennsylvania State University’s College of Health and Human Development. “In terms of both nutrition and safety, organic food is no different than foods produced by other contemporary food production practices.”
In a 2020 systematic review, researchers reviewed a wide range of interventional and observational studies. The current evidence does not indicate a definitive statement on the health benefits of consuming organic foods.
Some consumers buy organic produce to reduce their exposure to residue from pesticides. However, studies comparing pesticide- with nonpesticide-grown foods have found that neither is significantly safer than the other. The AHA recommends everyone eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, regardless of if they are organic or nonorganic. Both types provide important nutrients and fiber for a healthy eating plan.
What does organic mean?
Organic is a labeling term that indicates the food (or other agricultural product) has been produced according to the USDA organic standards(link opens in new window). The USDA has four categories for labeling organic products:
- 100% organic — for products made with 100% organic ingredients.
- Organic — for products with at least 95% organic ingredients.
- Made with organic ingredients — denoting a minimum of 70% organic ingredients. The USDA Organic Seal cannot be used on the product, and it cannot be represented as organic. Only up to three ingredients can be represented as organic.
- Multi-ingredient products — these have less than 70% percent certified organic content. They would fall under the “specific organic ingredients,” and don’t need to be certified. These products cannot display the USDA Organic Seal or use the word organic on the principal display panel. They can list certified organic ingredients in the ingredient list.
Increased cost = better taste?
On average, U.S. organic farms have higher production costs than conventional farms. Organic products have a higher price tag than their nonorganic counterparts because of the increased cost of complying with USDA standards and a decreased yield per acre, Kris-Etherton said. Some consumers are happy to shell out the extra money because, they say organic tastes better. However, no evidence indicates organically grown food tastes better, although it’s usually fresher when purchased because it doesn’t contain preservatives and therefore must be brought to market sooner.