What You Should Know About Organic Food

Dirty Dozen: Organic Food

People talk about organic food often. Do you ever wonder what all the hype is about? Learn the difference between conventional and organic food and what it means for your health, environment, and wallet.

What IS Organic Food?

The term “organic” refers to the way food is produced (i.e. raised or grown) and processed. There are specific requirements that producers must meet in order for their products to earn the organic label:

Organic Crops
• Grown without the use of chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
• Do not contain genetically altered DNA (also called GMOs or genetically modified organisms)
• Do not undergo radiation

Organic Meats
• Fed only organic feed (vs. animal by-products or feed grown with pesticides)
• Are not given hormones or antibiotics
• Must have access to the outdoors

Nutritional Quality of Organic vs. Conventional

Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for your health, whether you choose organic or conventionally grown varieties. The jury is still out on the nutritional merits of organic compared to conventional foods, but recent research has shown that organic food may have an edge:

• One study reported that organic food had 40% more vitamin C, zinc, and iron than conventional
• Another study showed organic produce contained 58% more antioxidants (a beneficial component of plants) than conventional

Produce and Pesticides

The Environmental Working Group (a non-profit health advocacy group) reviewed the results of over 50,000 governmental tests on pesticide levels of produce items and published the results. The most contaminated items have been coined “the dirty dozen.”

Why Worry About Pesticides?
• Exposure at an early age may cause developmental delays and disorders
• Pregnant women can pass pesticides to their fetus and through breast milk
• Long term exposure has been associated with cancer and neurological conditions

Tips on Minimizing Costs

Organic food tends to be more expensive because organic farmers often
operate on a smaller scale and the farming is typically more labori ntensive.

Here are some tips to save money:

• Shop at farmers’ markets – items are usually sold for less than in the grocery store and are guaranteed to be fresh and in season. (Though farmers’ market produce may not be certified “organic” it often contains fewer pesticides.)
• Purchase a share from a local farmer (also called Community Supported Agriculture).
• Always compare prices (at the farmers market or in the grocery story –look at frozen items as well).
• Stick to organic for the “dirty dozen” but go conventional with the “clean 15”:

Organic vs Clean

Why Do People Choose Organic?

• Many argue organic food tastes better
• Less exposure to pesticides
• Possibly more nutritious
• Better for the environment/less pollution
• Other ethical reasons

Learn something new!


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Our Be Fit Nutritionists are comprised of dietetic interns studying at Massachusetts General Hospital. During their internship, they receive training on acute care nutrition, ambulatory and community nutrition, food service systems management, and research. Their comprehensive work is done in collaboration with registered dietitians.

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