Is Organic Food Really Worth The Price?

in Financial Planning by

KEY POINTS
  • Why we recommend the nutritional and financial benefits of organic food.
  • Investing in organic food can reduce your family’s health care costs.
  • Don’t eat organic all the time, but find the balance and save big.

The relationship between food, health and wealth is becoming a front and center issue in our society. Many people, parents especially, wonder if there is a way to strike a balance between food, health, and the cost of pricier organic options. Will organic food actually make a difference and help us save money on healthcare costs long term?

Is Organic Food Really Better?

The first step to deciding whether or not to spend extra money on organic food is to determine whether or not it’s worth the cost. Many researchers have looked into the nutritional value of organic food, trying to determine if they do, in fact, provide an extra nutritional boost. Of course, like many studies, researchers have arrived at different results.

For example, a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition says that organic milk and meat specifically “are healthier than conventional products in a number of ways.” After reviewing data from 196 studies from around the globe, “The investigators discovered that organic products provide higher levels of beneficial fatty acids, certain essential minerals and antioxidants.”

There were other studies, though, including one in 2012 from Stanford that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that found “Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” but also says that the “literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”

In other words, the verdict is still out and definitely up for debate. Still, many parents choose organic food for their children. According to a recent Time article, one of the main reasons for this is that eating organic food exposes their kids to less pesticides. There was actually a fascinating study where researchers measured “pesticide exposure in a group of 23 elementary school-age children” and found that an organic diet over the period of just a few days reduced exposure. The Time article argued this is significant, since exposure to “agricultural chemicals” can lead to cancer.

In 2012, though, the American Academy of Pediatrics spoke out on this issue. They said, “Organically raised animals are also less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria because organic farming rules prohibit the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. However, in the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease. But, no large studies in humans have been performed that specifically address this issue.” Basically, more research needs to be done to come to a concrete answer.

I can tell you that as my income has increased over the past year, I’ve allocated more money to purchasing organic food. My husband is graduating from medical school in just a few weeks, and we try to place a strong emphasis on health. The CDC reports that, “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.” Because obese children (and adults) have more health issues, including high cholesterol and other chronic problems, their health costs will be higher over the course of their lives.

So, because it is up to us as parents to choose the food our children eat and establish a healthy relationship with food, we strive to give them quality, nutritious food even if it’s more expensive.

Why This Matters Financially

According to an actuarial firm called Milliman, Inc., a typical family of four will now spend $24,671 annually on healthcare. This is a scary number to me as the mom of a family of four who is already facing the frequently touted statistic of it costing $245,000 to raise a child until they become age 18.

Just last week both of my children were sick, and each time I bring them to the doctor, it costs us a significant amount of money even with insurance. Health care costs keep rising, and one way to stay healthy long term is, of course, to eat healthy food. This is not just for parents with young kids but for all adults in a range of professions, ages, and lifestyles.

Plus, healthcare costs don’t just weigh on us as individuals. They affect employers too, who see health care costs for their employees rise year after year. Steven Burd, who is the CEO of Safeway, the nation’s third largest grocery chain, explained that back in 2005, he was spending $1 billion on his employee’s health insurance policies and the cost rose every year. So, many corporations are trying to educate their employees on the importance of health and how to make sure their diets are nutritionally sound.

Why It Matters For Your Family’s Health

According to research by the International Journal of Obesity, “Parental style is a critical factor in the development of food preferences. Children are more likely to eat in emotionally positive atmospheres.” What this means is that children will formulate their relationship with food from a young age, and their parents will greatly influence this relationship. So, it’s up to us to select the foods they eat and allow them to learn about healthy food choices.

The studies can’t really tell us if the ultimate healthy food choice means eating 100% organic, but that’s where I believe the balance comes in. I know not every single thing I eat is organic. My children might have organic cheese quickly followed by fistfuls of goldfish crackers. I don’t expect my two year old twins to be the image of organic food perfection. They are going to eat cookies and other junk from time to time. However, they’re also going to drink organic milk and eat organic veggies and organic meat (that is, if my son ever decides he actually likes meat.)

Do you know your monthly spending on food and organics?

Ultimately, I don’t think all of us have to be perfect when it comes to what we eat, but I do think it’s important to be more conscious about food choices and be aware of the financial implications. Health care costs and obesity rates are rising in our country, and we all know how expensive it is to go to the doctor or buy medication for chronic issues. So, if eating better and having a healthy lifestyle can help me spend less on medical costs then I’m all for it, especially if it increases my quality of life and the growth of my wealth long term.

Track Your Family’s Food Spending

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Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer who contributes to several online publications including The Huffington Post, top personal finance blogs, and her own site, BudgetBlonde.com. She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not reading and writing, she is taking care of her young twins. Follow her on twitter @BudgetBlonde.

16 comments

  1. Ace

    By all means, switch to organic food if you want to spend your money on marketing cons, rather than nutrition. Show me any evidence that “organic” offers any health benefit over traditionally-grown food, and I’ll gladly sign up. Until then, I’ll let others throw their money away.

    Reply
    • Don

      Nutrition and toxins aside, organic vegetables just taste better. I didn’t believe it until I tried it; I grew carrots, radishes, and cilantro, side-by-side, but one set of veggies was fertilized conventionally, the other fertilized organically. The seeds all came from the same packets, all variables the same except for the fertilization method.

      Sure enough, the conventional veggies grew much larger, but had a bland taste, similar to what you find at the grocer. The organic produce was smaller, but the flavors were phenomenal in comparison.

      Reply
  2. Ade

    I think beyond health considerations, we should also consider the impact on the environment. There is strong evidence that organic farming is significantly better for the environment. That’s a cost (or in this case benefit) that we may not see and feel, but nevertheless has a impact on our finances and health.

    Reply
    • Ace

      That’s not true, Ade. You need to remember that all the fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, etc., that are used in farming have one purpose: to increase crop yield. They are designed to get more bushels of grain out of an acre of land, more apples out of a tree, more gallons of milk or pounds of beef out of each cow, etc. If you accept that humanity’s demand for food is constant regardless of how food is farmed, then the result of switching everything to organic would be to require more acres of farmland, more apple trees, and more cows to produce the same amount of food. That results in a net greater impact on the planet versus traditional farming.

      I’m an advocate for sustainable farming techniques and reducing negative agricultural byproducts (like limiting fertilizer runoff, broad spectrum non-targeted pesticides, and over-medication of livestock), but that’s different from “organic” farming. Organic farming is marketing.

      Reply
    • Nick

      Is organic farming better for the environment? Organic farming requires more land to produce the same crop yield as non-organic farming. This leads to increased deforestation to acquire the necessary farmland just to keep up with non-organic farming Not to mention the increase in the price of food for everybody, especially those who can afford it least.

      Reply
  3. Ron Sheldon

    So much vagueness and presumptions, so little fact and objective evaluation. Start with inconclusive and contradictory study conclusions, end with a bias for organic without objective comparison to cost or health results.

    Many of the items I see in groceries labeled as “Organic” cost as much or more than twice the same type item not labeled organic. Washing fruits and vegetables before eating them can do wonders, both financially and to ease probable irrational concerns. Really makes me wonder how I’ve made it 74, and my father to 91 before passing, without ever going for the “Organic” scare. — not really wondering. Organic cheese???

    Perhaps the author has more money than sense. Glad she isn’t offering me financial advice.

    Reply
    • Ubermommy

      The stupidity of your statement is shocking. Your ancestors weren’t eating the SAD (standard American diet)!
      Technically, they were already eating organic. The toxins being added to my children’s cheese weren’t added to the cheese when your father was growing up. If truefullness were to be told…organic apples would just be apples and the non organic ones would have to be labeled with all the chemicals that have been added to them! Wash it off?!?! It is inside! It’s sprayed on the engineered seed, covers the soil, flows through the ground water and into the plants. Welcome to the first generation in history that will die earlier than the one before it 🙁

      Reply
  4. Leif

    I’m somewhat disappointed that the article makes no mention of the actual cost difference between organic and non-organic. For a financial blog that seems…odd.

    Reply
    • Keano

      I agree. This is a financial blog. Where is the cost benefit analysis, albeit with “benefit” being vague.

      Reply
  5. Ace

    That’s not true, Ade. You need to remember that all the fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, etc., that are used in farming have one purpose: to increase crop yield. They are designed to get more bushels of grain out of an acre of land, more apples out of a tree, more gallons of milk or pounds of beef out of each cow, etc. If you accept that humanity’s demand for food is constant regardless of how food is farmed, then the result of switching everything to organic would be to require more acres of farmland, more apple trees, and more cows to produce the same amount of food. That results in a net greater impact on the planet versus traditional farming.

    I’m an advocate for sustainable farming techniques and reducing negative agricultural byproducts (like limiting fertilizer runoff, broad spectrum non-targeted pesticides, and over-medication of livestock), but that’s different from “organic” farming. Organic farming is marketing.

    Reply
  6. Tori

    Let’s talk food safety as well. Most people don’t realize 70% of food recalls are Organic related products–lettuce, tomatoes, meat, milk, and eggs. Just ask Chipotle who promotes organic and locally sourced as their marketing tactic–no pesticides, no hormones, and no antibiotics. Remember two years ago when Chipotle threw conventional farming practices and products under the bus with video’s and nonsense? Remember just 6 months ago when Chipotle’s marketing tactics blew up in their face with hundreds of people across US getting sick from eating Chipotle’s organic and locally sourced food with no pesticides, no hormones, and no antibiotics? Chipotle actually had to shut down a large number of their restaurants because this problem kept getting worse with more and more people getting sick from their food. Within the last 60 days Chipotle has publicly admitted the local sourced or organic food does not have adequate food safety checks and balances to produce large quantities of food. Not sure how this article on organic saves in health care costs, it clearly is not sustainable, and without question is not safer. Guess the jury is still out on nutritional value. I will keep buying safe, affordable, and food produced by non organic farmers who know what sustainable farming stands. Do your own case study research on Chipotle. Go visit an organic and non organic farm and make decisions for yourself.

    Reply
  7. Jayce

    By all means, if you want our fertile farmland to all end up in the Mississippi delta and pests to become more and more pesticide resistant and antibiotics to become less and less useful, continue to eat food that is not organically grown. Life on earth is one big boat. It’s time to stop using agricultural practices that punch holes in the bottom, because we’re all sinking together.

    Reply
  8. gholt

    Show me the evidence that organic is better for the environment. This is based on a false understanding or what organic agriculture is. There is so much misinformation out there about organically grown produce. I have worked in agriculture for over 25 years. I have seen organic agriculture grow during this time. It results is reduced yield, reduced quality and increased risks to health and the environment than conventional farming. The negative effects of pesticides are grossly over-estimated and none of the negative effects of organic farming are ever mentioned. For example, if there’s going to be a foodborne illness outbreak in this county, it will likely occur in organic agriculture because of the use of animal manures.

    Reply
    • Keano

      It is nice to hear from an expert actually IN agriculture. Thanks

      Reply
  9. G2

    Excellent and thought provoking article – Thank you!

    Personally, I eat organic as much as possible because – real or perceived – when I put fewer chemicals and “unnatural” substances into my body, I allow for the possibility to not have any adverse affects due to their consumption.

    First, as I said, I recognize that this is a perception. This perception helps me keep my mind at ease. There have been plenty of studies that show stress, anxiety, and mood can positively or negatively affect one’s immune system and health. Mind over matter? Maybe. Maybe not. However, it feels like a healthy, nice benefit for me.

    Second, I am in a position where I can afford organic food without it seriously impacting another part of my wellbeing – shelter, clothing, recreation, etc. My wife does most the shopping and cooking and has been the one to help guide me through any education around organic and she is WAY more strict than I am about the food she consumes. I do remember shopping with her early on in our relationship when we were both young students, and being shocked at how much more organic was than non-organic. It was garlic and I think the price was $6.99 per pound versus $0.99 per pound! I about blew a gasket. In the end, a head of garlic is very light and the cost wasn’t significant. I think as supply and demand for organics increases, economics will show that the disparity between these prices will (and have already) shrunk.

    Anyway, I don’t remember where I first read/heard it, but sometime in the last six months, I came across a new report regarding this topic – organic foods and their benefits.

    Similar to your comments, the study said it was inconclusive as to whether or not organic food was significantly better for the individual’s health. However, they did say as a system (e.g. a field, a farm, a city, the earth) that eating organic food put less chemicals, antibiotics, etc. into our environment.

    So my belief comes down to the perception that as we eat more and more organic foods, we put fewer chemicals into our environment and everyone will benefit from the positive effects of this.

    This also spills over to basic consumption (clothes, cars, recreation,etc.), that the less we use, the less we manufacture, and the less we are apt to put chemicals into our environment.

    Reply
  10. Jamie

    The real question should be why would you eat animal proteins or dairy products if you want to be really healthy? There are mountains of evidence showing how a plant based diet prevents and reverses most of the diseases leading to death in America. Plus animal agriculture is destroying our planet. Google around a bit and you will discover the incredible damage. Animal agriculture is not sustainable.

    Reply

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