Q&A: Is organic food worth the extra money?

Q: Is it worth the extra cost to buy organic, or does healthy, conventionally grown food trump pesticide-free?

A: It's really not a black-and-white issue. To get to the bottom of things, you have to look closely at different types of food:

-- Organic or not, produce and grains like wheat and rice are packed with all kinds of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, plus not all conventional agriculture is teeming with toxins.

Organic flours and rice typically have an affordable price point, but when used as ingredients in other foods, the price tends to go up. For this reason, your organic dollar is typically better spent on the single-grain products.

-- For fruit and veggies, there's also local products to consider. Many local farmers' can't afford to become a USDA-certified organic operation but adhere to responsible growing practices. Shopping at a farm stand or farmer's market is a win-win situation -- you can support a local farm and get safe and affordable produce at the same time.

-- For eggs, milk, cheese and meat to be organic, the animals that produce them must be fed an organic diet. Foods like yogurt would also be subject to having other organic ingredients like fruit and sugar. The organic bonus here would be that the use of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals is prohibited. But it's becoming and more and more common for conventional producers of these foods to avoid the use of hormones and other controversial additives.

-- Many people incorrectly assume that "organic" is synonymous with "healthy" and it's certainly not. Prepared organic foods like cookies, snacks and canned and frozen meals often have few organic ingredients, but come loaded with sodium and added sugars. In this case, the "organic" price tag is probably not worth it.

Bottom line: It shouldn't be all or nothing when it comes to organic foods. Fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats and dairy are plentiful with nutrients whether they're organic or not. Do your homework and designate part of your grocery budget to certain organic foods.

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