Organic eating: is it worth the cost?
A trip to the grocery store can mean two totally different price tags, depending on how you shop. No matter where you go, you’re usually given two options: traditionally grown or organic. This applies to both produce and animal products. The food typically looks pretty similar on the outside, but the costs are staggeringly different. But what does organic really mean and is there a danger in eating the generic stuff? For those of us on a budget, shopping totally organic isn’t the most frugal option so it’s important to know what’s really worth your money.
Organic means that a certain food or ingredient is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, dyes, pesticides, genetic modification or in the case of meat, any growth hormone additives. This kind of food costs more to produce and therefore can kick up your price tag between 10-40%.
Farmers use pesticides to keep insects and weeds away from the crops, but organic growers use more natural methods like plant residue that don’t risk any pesky chemicals getting into the food. The organic route is intended to keep pesticide residue from making its way into our bodies and doing unnecessary damage. But what is that damage exactly and is it worth real concern?
The most common toxin humans end up ingesting from time to time is called organophosphate insecticide. Organophosphates kill insects and other little scavenging critters by damaging enzymes responsible for nerve function. But it only seems to be truly effective in these high-potency doses. In humans, the only reported health concerns come from the people spraying the pesticide and working in the fields where they are used constantly. The microscopically low exposure we’re susceptible to in our food usually doesn’t cause hugely adverse effects.
The most vulnerable population to pesticide poisoning are infants, children and pregnant women. Periods of development are the most sensitive times for both women and children, and are the most important moments to maintain immunity.
There have been misconceptions over the years that organic food is not only cleaner, but more nutritious, but that’s not actually true. There is no evidence that organically grown food has any increased vitamin or mineral benefits.
Another reason people may choose an organic diet has nothing to do with their own bodies. Organic farming methods are more sustainable and better for the environment. Much like the vegan track, there’s a more long term implication to their eating choices than just making them physically healthier. There is also a consideration that by shopping organic there will be less of a demand for pesticide workers to be in those fields being toxically exposed themselves. If you think about it that way, your grocery choices may be an act of kindness for your fellow man.
The FDA, USDA and EPA are constantly monitoring organic foods, and ensuring that everything is labelled accurately. You’ll see a variety of different stickers on these foods, like “certified organic” or “100% organic”, and this indicates the level of pesticides used in the growing process. These labels aren’t interchangeable and indicate different percentages of chemical residue. Depending on your priorities, you may want to take a closer look at what “organic” really means on each food item and if you’re getting your money’s worth.
In the worst of cases, the symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning are dizziness, nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and mental fog. But don’t worry it’s treatable. When it comes to organic eating, the rule of thumb is to know what your body needs. If you’ve always eaten conventionally grown food and not experienced any problems, it may not be a necessity. But if you’ve made a diet change recently and aren’t feeling your best, you may want to take a closer look at chemical additives and how you can make positive changes. If you can afford the cleanest and priciest food out there, go for it. But if the cheaper options fit your lifestyle best, make healthy choices where you can and find a balance.
Take it from me
I personally don’t shop organic. My focus is the nutritional benefits of the food I’m eating and I don’t really think about extra chemicals. I’ve never suffered from any ill-effects or digestive problems, so I haven’t had a reason to worry.
For me, as long as I’m keeping up with my vitamins and vegetables, I feel like my immune system is strong enough to fend off tiny doses of pesticides. If your body is more sensitive to bacteria, definitely don’t overlook these factors, but it’s all about individual experience and what makes your body unique. Figure out what makes you feel your best and go with that.
I’m also in my early 20’s and always on a budget, so finding the more affordable options is my priority. When comparing conventionally grown foods with organic alternatives, I just don’t have enough evidence to support the extra cost