Many people have concerns about the quality of the food they are eating and have turned to buying local and organic produce in an attempt to get healthier, chemical-free foods. Approximately  55% of North Americans now purchase organic foods. Although more people are buying organic these days, some people still wonder whether consuming organic foods really makes a difference in terms of food quality and health benefits. So, let’s take a closer look at what buying and consuming organic foods can do for you.

The term, “organic”, means that foods are spared the application of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. It also means that no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are used and that no feed additives, such as hormones or antibiotics, are added to the food. In terms of livestock, it is fed organic feed and is given access to light and the outdoors.

The primary concern about organic food is that it isn’t regulated; meaning buying organically-labeled foods doesn’t ensure they are actually organic. We have come a long way in this field and to label food as organic means abiding by strict government-standards for organic food production and it must be certified by an accredited certification body. In order to be labeled “organic,” the food MUST contain at least 95% of organic ingredients. When labeled as 100% organic, the food must contain 100% organic ingredients. You can also look for the organic stamp on the packaging, although this is not a required symbol.

There is also a question of nutrient content in organic vs. non-organic foods. Up to this point, the research has not shown that the nutrients in our organic foods are higher than the nutrients in non-organic foods, aside from one nutrient: phosphorous. Organic foods also have slightly higher phenols which are phytochemicals with many beneficial health effects. So, although the nutrient content isn’t much higher, the primary benefit of organic foods is its decreased exposure to antibiotics, chemicals and pesticides.

Pesticides are known carcinogens with 60% of herbicides, 90% of fungicides and 30% of insecticides known to be carcinogenic (cancer –causing). Studies are now finding pesticides in the urine of our children, but much less in children who consume organic produce. Pesticides are found in 50 to 90% of non-organic produce and in only 7% of organic produce. The pesticides found in organic foods are thought to be due to residual pesticides in soil, or drift from other non-organic crops.  This stresses the importance of washing your fruits and veggies and soaking your produce in organic veggie wash. Water alone isn’t enough to get rid of the residues, since pesticides are created to be water resistant in order to withstand rain.

A good, homemade veggie wash option:  Combine 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 2 tablespoons of baking soda with 1 cup of water in a spray bottle.  Apply this to your fruit before eating, or soak produce in this mixture before cutting.

The final concern is the price in buying organic produce. I encourage buying organic as often as possible. But, if you want to buy organic on a budget, the Environmental Working Group has a great list of foods that are best consumed organic as well those that are a little safer to eat non-organic: “The Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean 15”.  Try and stick to the foods in the Clean 15 list if you want to skip going organic.