Conventional vs Organic Produce – Which is Best? 

There is so much information out there that it can feel like overload. Is organic produce worth the extra cost? Should you be buying only Non-GMO? Which is healthier? It’s a lot to take in. I get it. 

I’m going to break it down for you. Let’s look at the facts and see if organic produce is better than conventional – and why. 

Closeup of fresh organic tomatoes

Trying to decide between conventional and organic produce can be super stressful. Buying food shouldn’t give you anxiety, but there is so much information out there. I sifted through all of it and pulled out the facts. 

Organic and All-Natural – What’s the Difference? 

Before we go too far, let’s get one thing cleared up. The label organic is not the same as naturalYou see, that logo “USDA Organic” is there because it means the food passed a ton of strict regulations set by the USDA.

To be allowed to use that term, crops must be grown without the use of any of these things: 

  • Synthetic fertilizers
  • Sewage sludge
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Conventional pesticides

The term “natural” is somewhat ambiguous and not well regulated.

So for this post, I’ll be discussing whether something with the USDA organic label is worth the extra cost. 

Conventional vs Organic Produce – Breaking Down the Differences

There are a ton of questions about organic produce, and I’m here to answer them for you. I’m going to make this as easy as possible, so I’m breaking them down into 3 main myths. 

Myth #1: Non-GMO Food is Safer

Fact: Truth be told, there’s  hardly any evidence out there saying GMOs are harmful to human health. In fact, no adverse health effects have been found in reputable scientific studies[*]. I know, there’s a ton of fear about GMOs, so much so they’ve been dubbed “Frankenfoods”.

So organic ones are way less scary and worth paying more, right? Nope. The science just doesn’t back up this claim. Plus, you can find many non-organic, conventional produce items that are actually non-GMO, they just might not be labeled so or  have not met other criteria to qualify for the organic certification.

Myth #2: Organic Food is Healthier than Conventional

Fact: Right now, it’s hard to say which is more nutritious. It just isn’t possible (seriously!). This is because so many things like climate and soil variation from farm to farm can affect the nutritional quality of the produce. And even a handful of apples all grown on the same tree can have different nutritional quality, regardless of organic title. 

There was this one study that showed how organic produce has higher levels of certain antioxidants. But these antioxidant levels likely don’t have an affect on your overall nutrition status. I can say with confidence that conventional produce is extremely nutritious. Whether it is grown organically or not, apples, oranges, and cucumbers have the good-for-you vitamins and minerals your body needs.  

If you are wondering if paying more for organic produce is worth it cause it’s more nutritious? Nope. It just isn’t (sorry!). 

Myth #3: Organic Produce Doesn’t Use Pesticides

Fact: Organic farmers use pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers too – they do! But the ones they use must be “natural”. The term “natural” is a very ambiguous term, and doesn’t necessarily mean safe. 

The key here is the amount. Yup, the dose makes the poison. Both all-natural and conventional pesticides could be harmful to humans if you consumed at the right dose. 

Plus, it’s not like the conventional farmers can use any pesticide they want at any dose. All pesticides are evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and stringent safety levels are set for each. Yup, farmers are only allowed to use a safe amount on their crops.  

The one thing that you might have heard is that conventional produce, on average, does have more pesticide residue on it than organic. However, these levels of residue have been repeatedly shown to have virtually no effect on our health. 

So, Which Produce Should You Buy?

Is organic produce worth the extra money? It isn’t necessarily more nutritious or safer. 

What it really comes down to is your budget and your personal values. Buying organic can support good farmers that are trying to reduce greenhouse gasses and farm with sustainable, earth-friendly practices. 

However, I just wanted to set the record straight that the science to date hasn’t proven that organic is any more nutritious than conventional produce, and it hasn’t proven that it’s any safer either. If you fear the science could say otherwise in the future and you have the budget to afford organic, then by all means buy it. But if you find yourself avoiding produce because you can’t afford organic and you’re haunted by the fear of pesticides, stop! The most important thing is to eat your fresh fruits and veggies, whatever type they might be. More produce intake is ALWAYS better, regardless of whether its organic or conventional. 

No matter which type you choose to buy, always support local farmers every chance you can. Many local farmers might not be certified organic, but they might farm with all the same farming practices as organic ones. Go visit a farmer’s market booth and ask them about their pesticide use and how they farm. They will be happy to chat.