Is Organic Produce Worth the Cost?

It was our favorite day of the week – the giant box showed up at the door and opening it felt like Christmas. The local, organic fruit and vegetables spilled out over the counter, and the kids enjoyed touching, smelling, and tasting the delicious produce. I felt like the mom of the year on these days.

After a while and in offseasons we started getting fruits and vegetables we didn’t eat. I felt like we were wasting food and money, and with a tight food budget, I canceled the service. Then the strangest thing happened. I stopped buying produce altogether.

I couldn’t afford the crazy prices for organic produce, and I didn’t want to buy the pesticide-ridden, ripened-on-a-truck goods. To clarify, I STOPPED FEEDING MY FAMILY FRUITS AND VEGGIES. And if you’ve watched my video on what the best diet is, which you can find here, you’ll know the perfect human diet consists of mostly fruits and veggies. It’s what every single diet recommends more of.

It’s easy to get swept up in the organic craze. We perceive organic produce and products as superior to conventionally grown foods, and when it comes to feeding our families, we want to give them the best! But is buying organic worth the extra cost?

Like most things when it comes to food and your body, it depends. Here we’ll look at whether organic produce is better in terms of nutrition, pesticide exposure, and the environmental impact.

Is organic produce worth the cost for better nutrition? NO.

Organic proponents argue that since the soil is better cared for using organic practices, organic produce is more nutritious. However, studies show organic fruits and vegetables contain the same nutrient profiles as their conventional counterparts. This means an organic strawberry contains as much vitamin C, potassium, folate, manganese, and the multitude of other vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals as a non-organic strawberry. The only compounds studies show to be higher in organic than non-organic goods are polyphenols, which are still being studied for multiple health benefits.

The amount of nutrients is impacted more by how fresh the produce is rather than how it is grown. Produce grown locally is fresher, more nutritious, and more delicious than the fruits and vegetables picked before they are ripe and trucked across the globe to your grocery store. Shopping at your local farmers market using our tips in this article: What To Know Before You Go will give you the most nutritious produce whether grown organically or not.

Is organic produce worth the cost to reduce pesticide exposure? YES

One of the most significant differences in organic farming is the use of pesticides. Conventional crops are usually genetically modified to resist the effects of synthetic pesticides that kill everything else but the GMO plant. This sounds scary, and the harmful effects of pesticides are what most people are concerned about.

Studies show that conventionally grown produce contains much more synthetic pesticide residue than organic produce. Organic farmers still use pesticides, but the USDA has strict regulations on what can be used on organic crops, and the result is less synthetic pesticide exposure.

Whether synthetic pesticides such as glyphosate are harmful is widely debated. Manufacturing companies provide multitudes of studies showing the absence of harm by the chemicals. Other studies show links between synthetic pesticides and diseases such as cancers, birth defects, celiac, Alzheimer’s, autism, ADHD, obesity, Parkinson’s, and many others. While conflicting reports are frequent in science (see my video “Can we trust science?) the implications that glyphosate and other pesticides could possibly have such detrimental effects on human health is enough to drive organic sales mainstream.

Another consideration for parents is that children, due to their small size, could potentially be affected more by pesticides.

Is organic produce worth the cost to minimize environmental impact? MAYBE

Many people buy organic because they believe it is better for the environment. Small, biodynamic farms use rotating crops, natural fertilizers, natural pesticides such as wildlife, and strive to sustain livestock and agriculture using resources from the farm itself. This is a fantastic model, and many people imagine all organic foods are grown with the same care. The demand for organic produce is driving the market for biodynamic farms and other organic farming practices that do help the environment.

However, unless you are buying produce from your local farmers, most of the organic food you buy in the store is grown in the same way and by the same companies as conventional crops. In some ways, organic methods used on large, single-crop fields use more energy and produce lower yields, which negate the positive benefits of the organic practices for the environment. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know the difference unless you know your farmer.

The bottom line: Is organic produce worth the cost?

In summary, organic and conventional produce provides similar nutrition with a slight advantage to organic for the polyphenols. Organic produce reduces exposure to potentially harmful pesticides, so the advantage here goes for organic. Since organic practices may or may not be better for the environment than cheaper, conventional produce, we’ll call this one a draw. By this comparison, we can conclude organic produce is better than conventional produce. Is it worth the cost? It depends on your financial situation.

If you can afford to buy organic produce the benefits may save your health later down the line from the adverse effects of pesticides, so you should opt for organic when you can.

If you have a limited budget but want to maximize your dollar with organic produce, look for sales and follow the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists for pesticide presence.

If your food budget is tight and buying organic doesn’t seem like an option, KEEP BUYING CONVENTIONAL PRODUCE! Conventional produce still contains the nutrition you and your growing children need, and the health benefits of getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet currently outweigh the potential adverse effects of pesticide exposure.

According to the science, if as a society we focused more on getting enough fruits and vegetables in our standard diet, we would see a decline in cancers and other food-related diseases even if everyone ate conventional produce with pesticides.