TIME Nutrition

Is Organic Food Really Healthier?

The latest research sheds some light on how to shop

Anyone who’s been in a supermarket lately knows labels can be tricky. Between “organic,” “local” and other food claims, what’s a savvy shopper to do? A recent poll showed that many people simply don’t know, with 23% mistakenly believing that local produce is always organic. Meanwhile, a comprehensive new review of research reveals that organic crops have higher levels of antioxidants and less pesticide residue than conventional produce. Of course, all fruits and vegetables are nutritious options, but if eating organic–and avoiding pesticides–matters to you, here’s what to know:

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

How the crops are grown Organic farms cannot use GMOs, pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Also, crops can’t be exposed to those things for three years before harvest. Conventional farms can use genetically modified seeds, and crops are often grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.


Where the crops are grown Organic crops can be grown anywhere, as long as the farm adheres to the USDA’s strict organic-certification standards. The USDA says there’s no consensus on local. According to a 2008 act, it means up to 400 miles–equal to the distance from Boston to Washington.


The nutritional difference This has been a topic of debate, but a recent study found that organic food has 17% more antioxidant activity than conventional crops. It depends on who you ask, but some argue that the high yield and larger size of conventional crops lower their concentration of nutrients.

This appears in the July 28, 2014 issue of TIME.
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