One of the reasons I hear people say that they choose organic foods is because they are more nutritious. While I have no problem with people choosing to eat organic foods, I wonder about this “more nutritious” claim.
Now that we know how to read nutrition labels, let’s take a look, shall we?
I’ll admit that my local grocery store is a bit short on organic options. I did find a few comparable products, so let’s get started!
First… organic sugar compared to plain old regular sugar.
Organic information on the left, conventional information on the right. We’ve got more information on our conventional product, but we can still work with what we have. The serving sizes are the same, the calories/serving are the same. The rest of the label looks the same – no fat or sodium in either one, 4 grams of carbohydrates in each, and no protein in either.
What? You don’t buy sugar for it’s nutrient content? Gasp! Okay… let’s look at something else.
Here’s unbleached all-purpose flour.
Again, organic on the left, conventional on the right. The serving size is about the same. The conventional flour has 110 calories per 1/4 cup; the organic has 100 calories per “less than” 1/4 cup – pretty comparable here. The difference in the flour is in the vitamins and minerals section. The organic only has 2% of your daily value of iron, while the conventional has 6% of your daily value. This is because the organic is unenriched, where the conventional flour is enriched. (Remember when we talked about fortifying milk? This is similar – extra vitamins and minerals are added to conventional flour to bump up it’s nutritional value.)
So far, we’ve not seen big differences. How about milk?
Organic on the left, conventional on the right…
The serving size is the same, 1 cup. They are both 1% milk, so you expect the same calorie and fat content, which we have. However, the conventional milk has only 0.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, where the organic milk has 1 gram of monounsaturated fat. The conventional milk also has slightly lower sodium (120 mg instead of 125 mg) and potassium (390 mg instead of 410 mg) than the organic milk. Total carbohydrates and protein are the same. The conventional has a little bit more vitamin C (4% daily value compared to 2% for organic).
And, finally, spinach.
The serving size is different, sort of. The organic spinach has 4 1/2 cups, or 85 grams listed as the serving size. The conventional spinach has 3 ounces, or 3 cups, or 85 grams listed as the serving size. So, weight-wise it’s the same, but volume-wise it’s different. From there… the same amount of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and carbohydrates per serving. But, again, there’s differences in the vitamins and minerals section. The conventional spinach actually has more vitamin A (160% of your daily value, compared to 110%) and more vitamin C (40% compared to 25%).
Are these differences enough to make you choose organic over conventional foods, or vice versa? No, probably not.
There are reasons for choosing organically-grown foods over conventionally-grown foods, and many people make this choice. There are differences in the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that can be used in each practice. These things are very important to some people.
But nutrition? It’s a wash. There’s very little difference between organically-grown and conventionally-grown foods.
Do you choose organic or conventional foods when you have the option? Why or why not?