Published September 04, 2012
Just because an item has an organic label, that doesn’t make it healthier, even if you are paying more for it.
“People automatically correlate organic with healthier food,” says CalorieCount.com's Director of Nutrition, Rachel Berman. “They see organic and think it has to be healthier for me and more nutritious but there’s a lot of mixed reviews.”
She says some consumers mistakenly assume organic labels designate that a product is more nutrient dense, but a label isn’t the biggest indicator of its nutrient value.
An organic apple will be void of many chemicals, but it’s the soil a food is grown in and how it’s transported that determines the nutrient value. “It’s the quality of the soil not how you manage a specific crop,” says Jennifer Schmidt, operator of Schmidt Farms in Sudlersville, Md. Schmidt points to a 2010 study conducted by The American Journal Clinical Nutrition that showed no significant difference in the nutrient levels in organic and non-organic conventional foods. Schmidt says the best way she improves her tomato field is to improve the soil its grown in.
Another common misconception when it comes to organic:
Consumers often mistake locally-grown food as also being organic, but these labels are not interchangeable. Locally-grown produce is better for the environment because there are fewer emissions released in transit, but there are both organic and conventional farms that ship and sell their crops locally. “Grown locally doesn’t mean organic,” says Berman. “These farmers have to go through serious certification” to earn the moniker organic.
One of the main reasons consumers are willing to pay more for organic food is because the products are free of chemicals and pesticides. While that may be true at some farms, Schmidt says there is a list of more than 2,300 chemicals that are approved for organic food production. “The biggest misconception is organic means it chemical free,’” she says. “Some operations don’t spray at all but generally organic agriculture does have an extensive list” of approved chemicals.
Consumers should be smart when they decide to buy organic produce. Experts say it is worth the money to pay extra for organic fruits and vegetables that have easily-penetrated skin that would allows chemicals to seep in effortlessly.
For instance, Berman says consumers are probably better off buying organic celery, strawberries and peaches, which have thin skins and buying non-organic bananas, melons and corn which have thicker skins.
Embracing organic doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. Consumers tend to go overboard when the commit to buying organic products, says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University. Why stop at buying organic fruit when you can buy organic toothpaste, shampoo and laundry detergent. “Once they feel organic is healthier they stop being critical of the price differentiator,” says Yarrow, who suggests consumers do a return on their investment analysis to see if the organic benefits justify the cost. It’s good to be committed, but she warns consumers need to be selective with their purchases and leave room for moderation.