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Are Organic Foods Really Healthier?

A new study questions whether organic foods will keep you healthier than conventionally grown ones. What does it mean for you?

Organic Food and Your Body

First, it helps to understand the research. After looking at over 200 previous studies, here’s what the scientists found out about:

  • Nutritional Value: The study revealed that there’s not much difference between conventionally grown foods and natural organic foods—other than a few exceptions, like higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk.
     
  • Pesticides: Organic produce is 30 percent less likely to be contaminated by synthetic pesticides than conventionally grown produce. 
     
  • “Superbugs:” Organic meats like chicken and pork are less likely to harbor “superbugs”—that is, bacteria that are immune to several types of antibiotics, making it more difficult treat infections in both animals and people.

So what does that mean? Should you shell out for organic foods? 

For some, especially those with children, fewer pesticides and superbugs may make it worth it. Then again, it’s rare for any produce to have pesticide levels that exceed government safety limits—so it’s not clear if buying organic to limit your exposure to a small amount of pesticides has any benefits. 

And for consumers looking to boost their health through better nutrition, the fact that natural organic foods don’t appear to have more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is pretty straightforward—and no surprise to New York University professor Marion Nestle, Ph.D, M.P.H., who says organics have always been about the environment.

“Organics is about production methods free of certain chemical pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, GMOs [genetically modified organisms], and sewage sludge,” she said. “The only reason for organics to be about nutrition is marketing.”

Leave it to marketers to save the planet … but at what price? Sales of natural organic foods in the U.S. topped $26.7 billion in 2010, fueled in part by consumers in search of healthier food.

NEXT: Organic and the planet >>

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