Leading a healthy lifestyle can sometimes feel like a game of healthy options and not-so-healthy options.
Stairs or elevator?
Salad or hamburger?
Treadmill or elliptical?
The good news is that when we go to the grocery store and walk into the produce aisle, we don’t have to choose between purchasing healthy and nutritious food or affordable food. While seeing organic on the label might make us feel better about our food choices, the reality is that the organic option isn’t healthier or better for us. The conventional choices are just as healthy and nutritious – and they won’t hurt your pocketbook as much!
Is Organic Food Better For You?
In 2012, a group of scientists at Stanford took a closer look at whether organic produce was more nutritious than conventional produce. The study confirmed that there is little evidence to support the idea that organic foods are more nutritious or better for us than conventional produce. The perception that “organic” means “healthy” has been (almost literally) hardwired into our brains without any substantial science to support it!
A recent study conducted by Cornell Food & Brand Lab demonstrated just how deep this association runs in our society. It turns out it can even trick our taste buds! People at a shopping mall in Ithaca, New York were asked to try 3 pairs of food – 2 yogurts, 2 cookies, and 2 potato chips. One was labeled “organic” and the other “regular.” In reality, the products were both organic and identical. Nonetheless, the “organic” label greatly influenced people’s perceptions of the food. The organic cookies and yogurts were estimated to have significantly fewer calories and the shoppers were willing to pay a 23.4% premium for them. A majority of the shoppers even thought that the organic cookies were lower in fat and more nutritious. No surprise, the shoppers thought the organic versions tasted better than the regular version.
Unfortunately, the perception that organic food is healthier is actually acting as a detriment for people trying to make healthier choices. A report completed for the Alliance of Food and Farming found that when people are bombarded with negative images (intentional or not) of conventional food, they tend to become discouraged and actually end up eating less fruits and vegetables. This is especially true for consumers that are low income. Unfortunately, some organizations, such as Academics Review, believe the organic industry is pushing these deceptive messages intentionally for marketing purposes. For a nation with an obesity problem, this is unacceptable.
Many legitimate and respected medical organizations have tried to correct this misconception, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. Janet Silverstein from AAP said this: “We do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thus reduce their overall intake of health foods like produce.” She went on to say, “What’s most important is that children eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whether those are conventional or organic foods.”
The American Cancer Society has also chimed in on the issue, citing that there is no scientific data demonstrating that eating organic foods will lower your chances of getting cancer. Oxford researchers echoed that sentiment when finding that women eating organic produce did not reduce the risk of cancer.
In sum, a healthy lifestyle includes plenty of fruits and vegetables – organic or not. In a country that desperately needs to increase our intake of healthy foods, this is welcome news. It’s also a nice reminder that we should not support organic marketing that spreads this misconception, because it ultimately means people eat less of the foods they need. Knowing that there isn’t a meaningful difference nutritionally between organic produce and conventional produce can certainly make all of those health decisions a lot easier.