Often considered “healthy” by virtue of being “organic”, foods and beverages that carry the organic seal must still be consumed in moderation. The notion that you can eat as much as you want because the food is “healthy” and/or “organic” is not true. (The same is true of sugar free foods, but that’s a different post!)

Foods that carry the USDA Certified Organic seal have “met strict standards for the growing, processing and handling of their products” and are the “only federally regulated organic” products on the shelf in the grocery store. The seal means that 95% or more of the product contains organic content, which was produced with an emphasis on natural processes and ingredients. Organic crop production practices includes maintenance of soil fertility, crop rotation, livestock living conditions/facilities, animal health and grazing requirements, and use of organic feed.

If a product is not listed as “USDA certified organic”, the farm or production site did not receive an on-site visit to ensure they are maintaining USDA organic standards. Companies may list their products as “organic” but they are not certified nor regulated by the FDA. This also includes products listed as “cage free”, “free range”, “grass fed” and “natural”. These are voluntary labels put forth by the farmer or manufacturer, and are not regulated by the USDA.

Critics of organic products say there is no way to confirm that a crop was grown organically, regardless of seals and inspections. Consumers then pay a premium for food marketed as organic. How much more organic foods cost than mass-marketed foods is unclear. The USDA estimates organic foods cost 10-30% more, whereas an independent study estimates as much as 82% depending upon the food.

This is the question I’m most often asked: “Is organic food worth the cost? Or hype?” Ultimately, it’s up to you. There does not appear to be any significant nutritional differences  that makes organic food “healthier” for you. Most research is skewed because people who eat organic foods tend to have healthier lifestyles overall, although some research indicates that organic foods may reduce inflammation and weight gain. However, because organic foods are more expensive, they are generally cost prohibitive for most Americans. One study found that 28% of Americans used organic foods in 2020, whereas another study indicated that 34% of Americans use some organic food, as opposed to only 6% who say they it most of the time.

One popular option for organic foods is the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen™ list [link]. This list is updated annually and includes the fruits and vegetables that have the most residual pesticide levels. These foods should be purchased organically, if available and affordable.

Alternately, the Environmental Working Group also publishes the Clean Fifteen list with produce that has the least amount of pesticide residue, and can therefore be purchased nonorganic.

What is most important to understand is that ALL farmers use pesticides, including organic farms. The overarching recommendation by all health professionals is eat your fruits and vegetables, regardless if they are organic. However, what you should do is clean your produce with soap and water before you consume them – period! You have no idea who has been handling that apple, nor where it’s been! Clean, and enjoy!



USDA Certified Organic: Understanding the Basics | Agricultural Marketing Service

Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? – Mayo Clinic

Is Eating Organic Food Worth the Price? – GoodRx

EWG’s 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce | Dirty Dozen

Dirty Dozen List of Fruits and Vegetables Updated (verywellfit.com)