Nutrition and Food

Organic versus Conventional – Which Should You Choose? Part Two

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Lets continue the conversation on some of the main factors that consumers like you consider when making purchases at the food store. If you didn’t read Part 1 of the series addressing the safety and cost of organic and conventional foods, you can view it here.

Nutrition

Working to improve your health through the food that you eat? Then you want to eat the MOST nutritious versions available, right? It’s more bang for your buck!  The food & nutrition industry has been testing both organic and conventional foods for many years. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a definitive answer of which type is nutritiously superior.  In the early 2000’s, you could find articles that were claiming a significant nutritional disparity between select organic and conventional foods. Only a few years later, there had been new research saying the exact opposite. In 2009, the American Society of Nutrition posted an article  concluding there is no significant difference between organic and conventional foods. Again in 2012, a hotly debated report from Stanford University stated that there is a lack of strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods.

 Today’s research deviates from those studies, showing that there IS a nutritional difference in some organic foods. Reports are showing up to 40% higher in antioxidant activity  in organic fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are comprised of nutrients like Vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids and minerals like selenium and the health benefits of antioxidants are evident.

 What does this mean? It’s apparent that there is more research needed.

 If good health is important to you, then we suggest continuing to choose your favorites until further solid evidence is discovered. Want better nutrition now? Remember VARIETY! Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat meats and dairy will give you a wide spectrum of your daily needed nutrients.

Environmental Impact

Soil erosion, decline in crop production, fertilizer runoff, and pesticide resistance are concerns that some take into account when deciding between organic or conventional foods. The USDA has many resources on how farmers can protect and enhance the environment but there are still problems that worry shoppers.

Scary reports of lake and river “dead zones” occasionally surface after finding considerable deterioration of wildlife and vegetation. This fuels new environmental studies to identify the true offender and will often include testing of new farming techniques and products that can help protect instead of harm.

Consider this: all types of farming impacts the surrounding environment. Organic farms can use natural fertilizers and pesticides that can cause runoff problems. However, the USDA says that organic farming differs from conventional farming because they strive to preserve natural resources and biodiversity with their farming techniques. There also are organizations like the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania that dedicate themselves to researching and testing better ways for American farmers to grow organic foods without harming the environment.

If preserving the environment is important to you, then you may want to consider choosing organic foods. Environment-friendly tip: buy local! As we mentioned in Part 1, think about supporting smaller farms that are local to your home or workplace. This reduces the need to truck food products all over the country, which can produce a considerable amount of fossil fuel emissions.

 Don’t know where to find a local farmer market? Visit here and input your zip code or download an app for your mobile device (we tried Farmstand).

So, What Should You Choose?

The bottom line is that, as a consumer, you have to decide what’s important to you. Whether you’re concerned with safety, cost, nutrition, environmental impact or something else that wasn’t mentioned, you should always choose what’s best for you and your family. Watch for new research on the areas that are important to you. And in the meantime, purchase and eat healthy food that you love!

Photo Credit:

http://abcn.ca/category/diet-exercise/

http://farmersmarketannex.com/fmablog/?p=271

Nutrition and Food

Organic versus Conventional – Which Should You Choose? Part One

Posted on

Deception. Misdirection. Imminent Danger. All characteristics of a villain in the next superhero blockbuster, not the emotions we should have when selecting our next meals.

With sensational headlines in modern media and new research claims, it’s not surprising that even the most educated shopper can be infused with doubt over what to place in the cart. Shopping at the market should be a pleasant experience filled with delicious options from which to choose.

Today, there is a wide variety of conventional and organic produce (fruit, vegetables), livestock (meat, dairy, eggs) and multi-ingredient products (breads, pasta, and other processed foods). This is a great success for the US, but it can be very overwhelming for the American consumer.

 Common complications:

  1. We can be inundated with so many choices that it may seem easier to select what was purchased before, without thinking twice.
  2. Organic foods are stigmatized, with some saying that they’re only for the wealthy, for environmentalists, or for parents with young children.
  3. Some food companies have embraced misleading marketing practices to boost sales, touting that their foods are “healthy and natural” or even using “organic” on their packaging. (Other companies are responding to these practices by putting out product lists of their own, encouraging transparency in marketing and making healthy, informed choices.)

Choosing between organic and conventional foods can be an easier decision. In this two-part series, we’ll address some factors that consumers like you consider when making purchases at the store.

Safety

A concern for some shoppers is safety – safety for themselves, for farmers, or for the animals. Understanding the production of both conventional and organic foods can clear up some apprehension.

 Conventional food products are produced by traditional farming practices used by small family farmers to large corporate farms. This can include using chemical pesticides for pest control and synthetic fertilizers to increase growth margins. For livestock, this includes dosing with antibiotics and hormones to help maintain the health of the animals.

 Governing organizations like the USDA and FDA regulate conventional farming practices and inspect food products for wholesomeness, deeming them as safe for consumption. However, government regulation ends there.

 According to the USDA,  organic operations must use only approved substances and avoid man-made fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. These practices also promote farm worker health, lowering the risk of inhalation or ingestion of harmful substances.  Furthermore, the USDA organic seal on meat, eggs, and dairy products verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.

 If safety is your priority, then organic foods may be the best choice. On the fence? Start with the Environmental Workers Group’s “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen,”  an annual list distributed to educate consumers on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.

Cost

One of the key benefits of conventional food products is their wide spread availability in the US. These products can be found in grocery stores, convenience stores, and schools, to name a few. Simple economics of supply and demand as well as generous government subsidies help explain the lower prices of conventional foods.

Typically, organic foods are priced higher than conventionally grown foods, which may be caused by the limited availability of organics. America has seen a significant increase of organic operations since 2002 however, so consumers may begin to see reduced prices on certain foods. 

Consider also the additional fees to the farmers. Farm owners have to pay fees and complete a transition period  before beginning organic operations. To recoup these expenses, additional costs may be incorporated into food prices. Paired with “high-end” public perception and premium upcharges, organic foods will often be more costly than their conventional counterparts.

If you are concerned about cost, then conventional foods may be best. Still like to buy some organic? Here are some money saving tips:  

  1. Purchase discounted organic “seconds” at your local markets when available. 
  2. Visit local farmers who may follow organic practices but save on operational costs by avoiding the USDA certification process. A few specific questions to the farmer may help save you some money. 

Don’t know where to find a local farmer market? Visit here and input your zip code or download an app for your mobile device (we tried Farmstand).

Check back for Part Two of Organic vs. Conventional – What should you choose? We’ll discuss the Nutrition and Environmental Impact of Organic and Conventional foods.