Should I Be Eating Organic?

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Are organic apples healthier than conventional apples? Is drinking organic milk the only way to avoid added hormones and antibiotics? There is often confusion with the term “organic.” Organic doesn’t necessarily mean “healthier.” Let’s take a look at what organic really means, its impact on the environment, and how you might decide whether or not to purchase organic products that tend to have a higher price tag.

What does it mean to be eating organic food?

The USDA defines and regulates all organic products in the United States. According to the USDA, organic refers to foods that are “produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Organic foods must meet several requirements to receive a certified seal (“100% organic” or “organic”) or labeling terms (“made with organic” or “organic ingredients”). Long story short, organic refers to food processing, not the health impact.

  • Produce: For produce, organic is defined as grown on soil not containing any prohibited substances such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. However, a few approved synthetic substances may be used on certain crops that have been reviewed for any health and environmental effects. (The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances is here.) Pst! This means organic farmers are still able to use pesticides, both natural and some synthetic.
  • Meat & Poultry: Organic means animals must live in areas that encourage natural behaviors, be fed only 100% organic feed, and not given any hormones or antibiotics.

Contrary to belief, most research states there is not a significant difference in the nutrient content of organic foods when compared to conventional foods. Organic foods do have other benefits. Organic farming involves sustainable practices and avoids genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These foods are a labor of love provided by your local farmers! The higher cost of organics is needed to cover the extra labor for pest control and weeding, receiving the USDA organic certification, and account for crop losses. But, as the number of organic farms continues to grow, we’ll start to see these prices go down due to more availability.

You’ll want to lean towards organic in order to make a positive impact on the environment and support your local farmers.

What does this mean for conventional food?

Let’s look at conventional foods. While these foods do use synthetic sources for successful growth, their processing involves safe practices for the consumer. The USDA regulates all substances that are used on the foods we eat and works hard to prevent harmful foods from making it into consumer’s hands. They even release an Annual Summary of their Pesticide Data Program showcasing samples tested for pesticide residue. And guess what? The latest survey (2017) stated that 99% of tested samples were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerance levels. But despite the reports, there is still controversy among consumers. (FYI: The FDA also inspects foreign foods, especially from countries that do not have similar food safety systems. Read more about their goals to improve that process here.) With supermarkets on every corner, it makes monitoring everything difficult, so it’s important to practice safe food handling with both conventional and organic foods.

The best way to rid your foods of any residue is to wash, wash, wash. First, wash your hands thoroughly, then wash the produce under running water continuing to massage or scrub with a brush. Always wash produce before peeling or slicing to avoid transferring the dirt from the knife or peeler onto the edible portion. For heads of leafy greens, throw away the outer leaves. Residues also like to hide out in animal fat, so trim the fat and skin from meats, fish, and poultry.

Go ahead, eat organic! Or don’t. It’s a personal preference. But you’ll want to lean towards organic in order to make a positive impact on the environment and support your local farmers.

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Actionable Steps


Read the longer version

To learn more, read these articles reviewed by our professionals: Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means on the USDA Blog, All About Organic by Tennessee Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and A Nutritionist on Why She Doesn’t Always Eat Organic with evidence-based research for both organic and conventional foods.



Prioritize your organics. If price is a concern, choose the items that are most important to you or raise the most concern environmentally. Start eating organic foods for the ones you eat most often. Some organic shoppers like to use the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen as a start, but remember even these conventional counterparts are safe to eat when washed thoroughly.


Study your vocabulary

Before you go shopping, use these resources to understand the certified USDA Organic labels and how to weed out any marketing terms like “made with organic” or “organic ingredients.”


Play the detective

Be informed about the food you’re buying. Read the labels. Ask the farmer questions. Know the source of your food.


Wash, wash, wash

Wash ALL your fruits and veggies just before eating, even when eating organic. Get the run down on washing with this quick video.


Be healty

Eat seasonally. Eat variety. And eat joyfully!

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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