Organic products and their health benefits, truth or myth?

Organic food has become one of the most popular (and expensive) health fads in the last decade. With prices ranging from 30% to 70% higher than most conventional foods, one has to wonder what all the fuss is about. Is organic food really good for your health?

What does “organic” mean?

The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed . While regulations vary from country to country, in Europe, organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, or bioengineered genes ( GMO – Genetically Modified Organism), as well as a ban on the use of hormones and restriction of the use of antibiotics only when necessary for animal health.

Organic cattle raised for meat, eggs and dairy must be raised in living conditions that suit their natural behaviors (such as the ability to graze on pasture) and be fed 100% organic food and feed. They cannot be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal by-products. Growth factors and synthetic amino acids are prohibited , and natural breeding methods must be used; however, artificial insemination is allowed.

Today, most foods come in conventional and organic options. So what is the difference? The European Commission maintains specific guidelines regarding agricultural practices and the production of foods labeled organic. Because organic foods are grown differently, they contain fewer harmful substances like hormones and pesticides.

Organic label
Eco-labels that demonstrate the quality of certain products Getty Images/iStockphoto

Choosing to consume organic food is therefore a growing trend in today’s world following the realization of healthy self-improvement needs. However, finding accurate data on organic food has always been confusing, as people have mixed opinions regarding its benefits in general.

Organic products vs. non organic

These are the basic requirements for organic food and agriculture:1

Organic produce must be grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers , and cannot be genetically modified. Most conventional agricultural products use all of the above in their farming practices.


Organic meat and dairy products must come from animals raised in a natural environment , given no antibiotics or hormones, and fed 100% organic food.


Organic packaged foods have a variety of different labels that they must comply with that indicate how organic the product really is. The only foods made with completely organic ingredients contain a label that says 100% organic. Almost everything else with an organic label is made with 70% or more organic ingredients.


Organic farms must obey environmental rules, such as crop rotation, to ensure that the soil remains healthy and that all nearby water sources are not contaminated. Organic farming methods are better for the soil and sustainability . When you eat organic food, you are not only protecting your body, you are also choosing how to take care of the planet’s resources.

It’s not what you’re eating, it’s what you’re not eating

The benefits of eating organic food have less to do with what you’re putting into your body and more to do with what you’re leaving out . Conventional non-organic foods contain a variety of toxins that can increase your chances of developing certain diseases. By choosing to buy organic, you will avoid exposure to harmful toxins, hormones, and antibiotics.

There are tons of different ways pesticides are used in agriculture, from spraying crops to dipping seeds before planting, so it’s almost impossible to know how the chemicals treated and impacted your food.

  • Toxins found in pesticides used on many farms to improve the growth rate of crops. These chemicals can have harmful health effects and have been linked to many medical conditions, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, birth defects, and infertility in men. The only way to ensure you’re eating chemical-free products is to buy organic.
  • Hormones and antibiotics are often used on non-organic farms to help animals survive harsh living conditions. If you eat meat, eggs, and dairy products that have been treated with these hormones, they can affect your health.

Does organic mean pesticide free?

As mentioned above, one of the main benefits of eating organic produce is lower levels of pesticides. However, despite popular belief, organic farms do use pesticides . The difference is that they only use naturally-derived pesticides, rather than the synthetic pesticides used on conventional commercial farms. Natural pesticides are believed to be less toxic, however some have been found to have health risks. That said, your exposure to harmful pesticides will likely be lower when you eat organic produce.

Organic label
Organic label Getty Images/iStockphoto

Know the pesticide levels of certain products

Some types of conventionally grown produce have much more pesticides than others, and should be avoided when possible. Others are low enough that buying non-organic is relatively safe .

Fruits and vegetables where the organic label matters most

According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the results of government pesticide tests in the US, the following fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of pesticides, so it’s best to buy produce organic:


sweet peppers





Cherry tomatoes



Nectarines (imported)



Fruits and vegetables that you do NOT need to buy organic

Known as the “Clean 15,” these conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are generally low in pesticides:





Sweet corn







Sweet peas (frozen)

sweet potato

Pink grapefruit


Buy organic meat, eggs, and dairy if you can afford it.

Organic foods are often more expensive than conventionally grown foods. But if you set some priorities, it may be possible to buy organic food and stay within your food budget.

If you can afford the higher prices, look for beef and dairy products labeled “pasture-raised” or “100% grass-fed . ” For pork, chicken, or eggs, look for a “certified organic” label . You may find that buying cheaper cuts of meat from organically raised animals allows you to eat organic without breaking your food budget. Try buying organic chicken thighs instead of conventionally raised chicken breasts, for example.

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