These are foods produced following a government-regulated practice of growing and processing that minimizes exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals used in traditional farming. Organic food is one of the country's fastest-growing market segments; sales have risen more than 20 percent per year since the 1990s, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service.
Why it's here to stay:
Some organic foods may provide a nutrition boost. A research review of 41 studies conducted by the University of California at Davis found that, on average, organic produce contains as much as 27 percent more vitamin C, 21 percent more iron, and 29 percent more magnesium compared to traditionally grown foods. The kinds of packaged organic foods that now fuel the category's growth, like cookies, baked goods, and boxed meals, also benefit from a similar perception of healthfulness.
What it means for you:
"An organic stamp isn't necessarily a guarantee of nutritional quality, but it is a sure sign that the food is less adulterated," Stokes says. An organic cookie, for example, may have just as many calories and grams of saturated fat as a nonorganic cookie. But in the case of produce crops that are commonly treated with high concentrations of pesticides, like peaches, apples, and strawberries, choosing organic can minimize your exposure to these chemicals, according to tests conducted by researchers from the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C.