Organic food as a healthier life choice: Fact or Fiction?

Photo credit Gillian Freedman

What do you base your food choices on, if you base them on anything?

Do you base them on the fact that there’s a really convenient grocery store down the block with nice cashiers who didn’t laugh the past three times your debit card got denied?

Do you base them on the fact that when you shop all of the cashiers are wearing fierce Hawaiian shirts and you can pick up a fabulous bottle of Charlie Shaw’s wine for $1.99 that will be your companion as you finish your English homework? As Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Wine is bottled poetry.”

Or, do you base your food choices on the fact that certain items will give you the most nutrients for the least pesticides, and that’s why no matter where you shop, you always shop organic?

A recent study released by scientists at Stanford University concluded that organic foods are not more nutritious than conventional foods.

Scientists found that fruits and vegetables labeled organic, on average, contained  no more nutrients than their conventional counterparts. They also found no apparent health advantages to organic meats.

While scientists did find that conventional fruits and vegetables contained more pesticide residue, levels were almost always under the safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.   Hence, they are harmless to humans.

These conclusions have sparked a debate over whether organic foods are smart choices that allow consumers to lead healthier lives, or smart ploys that producers use to maximize their profits.

Remember that, on average, organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventional foods- especially if you shop at Whole Foods instead of Trader Joes.

With the organic food market in the United States being as strong as it is, up to $12.4 billion last year, though, it seems unlikely that the conclusions reached in the Stanford study will sway many fans.

In fact, many claim that Stanford researchers failed to consider how important the lesser amount of pesticides found in organic foods is for many consumers.

Overall, the scientists found that 38 percent of conventional produce tested in the study contained detectable residues, compared with 7 percent for the organic produce.

“These are the big motivators for the organic consumer,” Christine Bushway, executive director of the trade association, said to The New York Times.

This is especially important for pregnant women and their young children. Three studies conducted last year by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, concluded that pregnant women exposed to higher amounts of pesticides had children with, on average, I.Q.’s several points lower than their peers.

However, as a college student who is presumably not pregnant, what does the Stanford Study mean to you?

The next time you’re in Whole Foods and you pick up those carrots that cost almost as much as a manicure, will you put them down? Or will you still think that you’re making a healthy life choice?