The Nutrition Education Program (NEP) helps families on a limited budget improve the quality of their diet.

NEP participants acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behavior changes necessary to improve their health. NEP is free to all participants who meet income guidelines. Learn more about what NEP offers...


Is Organic Better for You?

Article written by Alyssa Vierregger

The term ‘organic' has specific guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that have not been given any antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods are those which are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. In order for foods to be labeled organic, a government-approved certifier must inspect the farm to make sure the above standards have been met. There are also USDA standards for processing and handling organic food.

There are 3 types of organic claims on food labels:

  • 100% Organic. These products are "completely organic" or "made of only organic ingredients" and have a USDA Organic Seal.
  • Organic. Products in which at least 95% of its ingredients are organic and have a USDA Organic Seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients. These food products contain at least 70% organic ingredients. The USDA Organic Seal cannot be used, but it may say "made with organic ingredients" on the packaging.

There is inconclusive evidence as to whether organic food has a higher nutrient content than conventional food. Some studies show that organic produce is higher in iron, magnesium, and polyphenols, while other studies show very little difference in nutrient content (1,2). In one study of milk, there was no noticeable difference in nutrient content between organic and conventional milk, but conventional milk did show lower bacterial counts (3). More research is needed on organic vs. conventional produce, grain, meat, and dairy products to determine nutrient differences.

Another concern is the safety of organic and conventional food. It is important to remember that all foods are covered under U.S. food safety laws and regulations. The main safety issues between organic and conventional products are pesticide residues and foodborne illness. Pesticide residues tend to be lower for organic products, but reports of contamination of Escherichia coli (E. coli) show higher levels in organic produce. Overall, both conventional and organic foods have good food safety records.

Generally speaking, organic foods tend to cost more than conventional foods. Organic foods typically have higher production and labor costs which contributes to a higher cost. However, when buying in-season produce, the difference in price between organic and conventional produce may be minimal.

Ultimately, the choice is yours on whether you purchase organic or conventional foods. Regardless of your decision, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, and whole grains to ensure a healthy diet. If you do choose to purchase organic products choose milk, fruits and vegetables where you eat the skin (i.e. peaches, apples, grapes, berries, celery, etc.), beef, peanut butter, and baby food. Research is still ongoing on the differences in nutrient content between organic and conventional foods, so it is best to read the food labels to determine the right products for your dietary needs.


Research articles:

  1. Dangour AD, Dodhia SK, Hayter A, Allen E, Lock K, Uauy R. Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28041.
  2. Lairon D. Nutritional quality and safety of organic food. A review. Agron Sustain Dev. 2009;DOI: 10.1051/agro/2009019.
  3. Vicin J, Etherton T, Kris-Etherton P, Ballam J, Denham S. Survey of retail milk composition as affected by label claims regarding farm-management practices. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008; 108: 1198-1203.



The Cook's Helper

NEP participants who complete 7 lessons receive a fabulous cookbook free!

The Cook's Helper includes a variety of recipes including Appetizers & Beverages, Soups & Salads, Vegetables & Side Dishes, Main Dishes, Breads & Rolls, Desserts, Cookies & Candies, and so much more!

Try our award winning White Chili recipe from The Cook's Helper. Cookbooks are also available for purchase. Contact your Local NEP Office.