Organic vs. Non-Organic Food: Does It Really Matter, in the End?

OK.  Here's the question.  Would we be better off eating all organic foods?

We're certainly buying -- and paying for -- it.  Sales of organic food have soared over the past decade, up to   $30 billion in 2011, or 4.2% of all U.S. food and beverage sales, according to the Organic Trade Association, as The Wall Street Journal reports today.

Probably like you, I don't mind paying a little bit more for organic milk and meat (though I've stopped buying organic produce because if you wash the regular stuff, you get most of the chemicals off, and I worry about fecal matter).

But guess what?  No expert has yet been able to prove eating all organic food is better for us.

Now, eating food grown without the help of synthetic chemicals" is probably safer and healthier to consume than food containing those substances, even in trace amounts," The WSJ says. And many experts say they believe Americans "should try to substitute organic products for conventional ones whenever possible."

But are people on limited budgets -- who can't afford the hefty price tag of organic food (which can cost up to 40% more) -- really so badly off?   Janet H. Silverstein, a professor of endocrinology at the University of Florida and a co-author of an American Association of Pediatrics study on the health benefits of an organic diet, isn't so sure, according to The WSJ.

Chensheng (Alex) Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard School of Public Health, on the other hand, who says it only makes sense to avoid foods laced with pesticides, spoke to The WSJ about this.

Chensheung told the newspaper that in a study he did in 2006, children whose meals were switched from regular to organic foods, had pesticides disappear from their urine within five days.

Pouring water on skeptics' arguments that organic and non-organic items are essentially the same, food that was left out of studies like strawberries, leafy vegetables and wheat, "not only tastes better but contains much higher levels of phenolic acids than conventional produce."

Phenolic acids can "act as potent antioxidants that prevent cellular damage, and therefore offer some protection against oxidative stress, inflammation and cancer," he said

And as for my point about fecal contamination of organic produce, Chensheung had this to say. "For suggestions that organic food is just as susceptible to bacterial contamination as regular food, that is off point. That type of contamination can happen after harvesting and often has nothing to do with how food is grown."

But when I shop for raspberries, which my son can't live without, the organic versions often look and overripe, darker and "smushier" (my son's derogatory take) than non-organic. True, it's all the chemicals that, most likely, keep them looking bright and shiny. But it's hard to pay a dollar or two more for something that looks worse, and nine times out of 10, I buy the regular ones.

In the end, it's up to you.  I do buy organic milk, and some organic produce, but I've also heard that even though it says "organic" on the label, it very well might not be (though I think that's illegal).  So sue me if I don't buy all-organic.  I bet my kid grows up just as healthy as yours!


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