Investigation: Is Organic Food Healthier than Non-Organic?

Posted at: 07/21/2013 9:29 PM
Updated at: 07/22/2013 7:14 AM

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- As obesity continues to make headlines, you may feel a push to eat healthier, even organically.

But just because organic foods are in a special section of the grocery store, does that mean they're healthier?

There's a common perception many of us have when we hear the word "organic". Many of us assume organic foods are healthier for us. But some health experts say that's not necessarily true.

"There is very little scientific evidence that eating organic is much more healthy than not eating organic," said Dr. Donald Hensrud of Mayo Clinic.

He works in nutrition and says part of the misconception has to do with pesticides.

"Intuitively it makes sense that if we're not putting chemicals on plants in our body, its healthier. The actual amount that gets in our body and causes health affects is extremely small," said Dr. Hensrud.

His claim reinforces a 2012 study from Stanford University. Researchers found that although eating organic foods can reduce your exposure to pesticides, it doesn't mean organic foods carry less health risks.

For Kelly McLain, she not only believes organic food is healthier "I know it. I've experienced the difference," she said. She claims its helped reduce the affects of her chronic pain.

"Its kind of mankind that messes with food, puts things in it and it makes it not that healthy for us," said McLain.

When you walk into the organic section of your grocery store you'll notice two things, an organic label and likely the higher price.

But don't be fooled. Not all products in the organic section of your grocery store may be organic.

Look for this label. It's used on products when at least 95% of its ingredients are certified organic by the USDA. However, for products that have the certification, the label is optional.

"Organic farmers don't use synthetically created pesticides. However, they can use naturally produced pesticides so i think that's a common misperception," said Jen Haugen, a Hy-Vee dietician.

She says whether or not you eat organic, know how to read nutrition labels.

She compared a few products for us and found there were small differences, but nothing drastic. Some products were the same, like certain fruit snacks.

"Both of them the first three ingredients are sugar. So is one more healthier than the other? Not necessarily," said Haugen.

We looked at whole grain pasta. An organic version and a non-organic version. The nutrition labels were very similar.

Compare chocolate milk. The non-organic version has more calories and sodium than the organic version.

If you're thinking about switching to organic, we're told, education is key.

"We really advocate for education and knowing where your food comes from," said Brad Smith of People's Food Co-op in Rochester, MN.

Dr. Hensrud suggests instead of paying more for organic food, buy locally at a farmers market.

As for McLain, she's staying with organic.

"You just feel better," said McLain.

In the end, eating organic is a personal choice. Many people do it because of the environmental factors considered when producing those types of foods.

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