Organic Food 101

How It Is Grown, What Certification Means, and If It Is Healthier.

On every trip to the grocery store you encounter signs and packages advertising organic products. But what does it really mean? Is it worth the extra money?

In a word, yes. Organic seems to consistently provide more vitamins and minerals and contain far fewer toxins than their conventionally grown counterparts. The process of growing foods organically is kinder to the environment. And organic foods are never genetically modified.

Organic Food is More Nutritious

Several studies that have been conducted during the past 12 years have proven that organically grown food is nutritionally superior. A 1998 peer review of 34 studies in MEDLINE concluded that organically grown food contains higher quality protein, usually has higher amounts of vitamin C, and has a notably higher concentration of most minerals. Also, in 2003 the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reported results from a study that found those who ate organically grown produce had significantly higher amounts of flavonoids in their body, particularly quercitin and kaempferol.

Organic Food = No Pesticide Residue

Since organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, there will be none to contaminate the buyer and the buyer’s family. Conventionally grown produce may expose the consumer to up to 3, 000 high risk toxins in the form of pesticides, herbicides, and the like. And, studies have shown that small amounts of pesticide can remain on conventionally grown food even after washing.

What to Buy Organic & What You Can Skimp On at the Grocery Store

Price is an issue with most people in buying organic produce. Knowing what you should definitely attempt to buy organic and what is less dangerous can be important to your budget and peace of mind. Keep in mind that buying your produce locally and in season will keep prices down for you as well. Studies have shown that nectarines, pears, celery, peaches, apples, cherries, strawberries, imported grapes, spinach, potatoes, bell peppers, and raspberries all contain the highest amount of pesticides and therefore should be purchased organic when possible. On the other hand asparagus, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, bananas, kiwi, mangoes, papayas, onions, pineapples, and sweet peas contain the least amount of pesticides, probably due to their thick skin.

Growing Organic Food is Eco-Friendly

Farmers who grow their crops organically must build up the environment rather than tear it down. These farmers naturally build up their soil with compost and manure. They implement farming techniques such as field rotation and mulching. They use natural methods to deter insects and they often weed by hand. And, since these natural techniques work best for smaller crops, they are able to plant more varieties of fruits and vegetables. This brings almost extinct produce to the consumer’s table, enabling the buyer to enjoy varied taste and nutrition.

What Does the Organic Label Really Mean?

It means the grower has been certified by the USDA as organic. For this to happen, the farmer has to meet many requirements. The land that is being farmed on has to have been pesticide free for three years. There has to be physical boundaries between the organic farmer’s land and any surrounding land being used for conventional farming to avoid contamination. The farmer must pass onsite inspections, as well as keep records of methods and materials used to farm. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) keeps a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which tells in detail what organic farmers can and can not use on their crops.

Does All Natural Mean Organic?

No! If something is labeled all natural or natural, that means that is does not contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It can very well have been grown using artificial fertilizer, synthetic pesticides, radiation, and it could be genetically modified. Only when an item is clearly labeled organic is it free of all of the above.

The Different Levels of Organic

According to the USDA, four different levels of organic labeling is used. When something is labeled 100% organic, it means just that. A product that has a seal that simply says “organic” is guaranteed to be at least 95% organic. If a package states that the product is made with organic ingredients, then that product is at least 70% organic. Finally, if there is no organic seal but the ingredients list contains some organics, that product is less than 70% organic as a whole.

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