If you’re spending a good portion of your grocery budget on organic foods because you think they are more nutritious, better for the environment and healthier, you might want to do a bit more research. While organics are chemical-free foods, many consumers believe a few common myths that exaggerate their benefits.


The terms “whole foods” and “organic” aren’t interchangeable. A whole food is simply a food that isn’t processed or doesn’t have anything added to it, either chemicals, preservatives or other foods. Depending on what definition you use, an organic lasagna isn’t a whole food because it contains many ingredients— it’s a healthy dish, but not a food. An apple is a whole food.

Organic foods (based on the legal definition for commercial purpose) are foods grown without chemicals, in ground that hasn’t been treated with chemicals for three years, aren’t genetically modified plants or organisms (GMOs), and which meet other federal standards, based on the crop.


Some people mistake the description of organic foods as being “healthier” as meaning the foods contain more nutrients. This isn’t true, according to a Stanford University review of hundreds of studies on organic and conventional foods. You don’t get more milligrams of vitamin C, for example, from an organic tomato than you do from a tomato grown by a large commercial farm. A more recent study suggests that organics contain more antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, but that’s just one study, and the scientific community is split as to even how important antioxidants really are.


When people talk about organics being “healthier,” they are talking about the fact that they don’t contain chemicals or genetic modifications that might cause health problems. Organic advocates say that the commercial fertilizers and pesticides used to grow non-organics are absorbed into the plants, and then into your body as you eat them. Other researchers say that pesticides stay on the outside of plants, warding off bugs and insects. Washing fruits and vegetables before eating them is enough to remove any pesticide residue, they say. The main ingredient in the common pesticide Roundup, used to treat wheat crops around the world, is now being pointed to as the cause of the increase in celiac disease (leading to the gluten-free diet craze).


If you’re worried about the environment, both types of agriculture have a negative effect on the earth. Conventional farming can introduce damaging chemicals that get into groundwater. Because organic growing is less effective for producing yields than conventional farming, organics farms use more land and water to produce the same amount of food as conventional farmers.


Genetically modified or genetically engineered plants have had their DNA altered to make the final plant hardier, more fruitful and more resistance to diseases and pesticides. Countries banning genetically modified foods and individuals calling for a moratorium while they are studied further are doing so because the long-term effects aren’t known, rather than because there is any proof these plants and foods cause health or environmental risks.


Both sides of the organic vs. conventional argument offer passionate and research-backed arguments to support their claims, with almost every study rebutted and dismissed by the other camp. If you’re worried about the effects of long-term consumption of chemicals and GMOs, then you might want to stick with organics – not because of what we know about the effects of chemicals, but because of what we don’t know. If you’re buying organics because you think you’re getting more nutrients and helping the planet, your money might be better spent buying more affordable (which can mean more) conventional fruits and vegetables.


This article was written by Sam Ashe-Edmunds, contributor for The Daily Clutch.