Are Organic Foods Worth the Cost?

How to get the biggest bang for your organic dollar.

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
4-minute read
Episode #11

This week, I thought I’d tackle a topic suggested by Thomas in Austin, Texas.

Hey, Nutrition Diva. I love your podcast and I have a question about eating organic. My Mom raised us on organics but as a college student, paying twice as much is not a cool idea. So, is eating organic worth it? Is it really better for the environment? Or is it just marketing to get us to pay more? Thanks!

Thomas, it’s not just students: We’re all feeling the pain. Food costs have risen faster this year than they have in almost 30 years. Every trip to the grocery store seems to take a bigger bite out of the budget. As you’ve noticed, organic foods cost more—on average, about 30% more—than conventional foods. Is it really worth the extra dough? It’s a fair question.

Organics and your health

First, organic growing practices are definitely better for the environment and, for many people, that alone is enough to justify the extra cost. To learn more about the environmental issues, check out the Make it Green Girl show, another great podcast in the Quick and Dirty family. Make it Green Girl tells me that she’s planning to do several episodes on organics in the near future, so you might want to subscribe to her show.

Let me address the nutrition part of your question: Are organic foods actually more nutritious? For organic fruits and vegetables, the research has been mixed. Some studies have found organic fruits and vegetables to contain more antioxidants than conventionally-grown produce. But other studies have failed to find significant nutritional differences.

I think it’s pretty hard to generalize because the nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables starts to go down pretty much as soon as they’re picked. So, I could easily imagine a scenario in which a conventionally grown tomato that you bought at the farmer’s market the day after it was picked could have more nutrients than an organically grown tomato that was picked two weeks earlier and flown across the country to the grocery store (check out this tip of mine if you want to know whether or not it's a good idea to freeze vegetables).

What’s NOT in organics may be more important

To be honest, if it were JUST about nutrient content, I think I’d have a hard time making the case that organics are worth the extra money. Non-organic fruits and vegetables provide plenty of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, they can also contain pesticide and herbicide residues—toxic chemicals that accumulate in the body over time. Exposure to these chemicals can contribute to cancer risk (especially in children) and reproductive problems, such as infertility and miscarriages.

Because organic fruits and vegetables are grown without artificial pesticides, they do not pose this danger. But now we’re back to Thomas’s dilemma. What should you do if organic fruits and vegetables are simply too expensive? You avoid the Dirty Dozen!