The grocery store and markets seem to be a confusing place lately. With so much controversy about labels and packaging, it can be hard to understand what you are buying, not to mention why you are buying it. Since we talk so often about “Going Organic,” we thought it might be nice to have a common understanding about what that term means when we talk about food.
If you have ever wondered what the difference is between a “Natural” product and an “Organic” product, you aren’t the only one. There is a common misconception by consumers that natural and organic are the same thing. In fact, they are not, and it is important to know why.
Although organic foods are natural by definition, the term “natural” is applied very broadly to foods. Most natural foods are not subject to government controls beyond basic health codes, and the FDA has not developed a definition for the term “natural.” Manufacturers apply the term “natural” broadly; it can mean anything from minimally processed to free of artificial sweeteners, colors, growth hormones, and/or synthetic preservatives.
On the other hand, a food labeled “organic” refers to not only the food but to how it was grown and produced. Organic foods are those that are made, produced, or grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, industrial solvents, genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), or chemical food additives. To be labeled “organic,” farmers are required to obtain special certification complying with national organic standards.
If livestock is involved in “organic” labeling, animals must have access to a pasture and may not be exposed to chemical antibiotics or growth hormones. In the United States, a food may be labeled “organic” if it contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.
You may have recently read headlines in the media that claim there is no nutritional edge with organic food, and it is not “healthier” than conventional produce. However, the Stanford study published in September 2012, which most of these headlines refer to, drew two very important conclusions from more than 230 field studies: eating organic produce and meat (1) reduces a consumer’s level of pesticide ingestion and (2) reduces a consumer’s exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
As obvious as this may seem, this study confirms that organic food does, in fact, have a significant nutritious effect on humans. By avoiding conventionally grown produce and livestock, you really are decreasing the amount of toxins ingested into your body. Depending upon the various toxins you could potentially introduce to your system with non-organic food choices, the myriad of potential negative health effects is simply not worth the risk to many people.
By choosing to eat fruits and vegetables grown organically, you are choosing to help yourself and the environment. Conventional farming practices use chemical pesticides which, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “can cause health problems such as birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer.” In addition, they have a dire
ct negative effect on important pollinating insects, surrounding wildlife, and contaminate ground water. Conversely, organic farming encourages biodiversity, sustainability, and it reduces pollution and our overall toxic load. Buying a “natural” product is a step in the right direction when compared to a standard processed product. However, an “organic” product is a bigger step toward keeping unnecessary poisons out of your body. To be sure, look for labels that include “Certified Organic.” In addition to the USDA, there are 49 agents accredited and authorized to certify operations as organic. For a complete list, visit www.ams.usda.gov.
Equally important, did I mention that organic produce just tastes better? If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. The next time you are at the grocery store, buy a regular apple and an organic apple (or banana, strawberry, tomato, whatever you like). Try them one right after the other and see if you can taste the difference. I’m willing to bet you will. So why not go for better health and better taste at the same time. Your body will appreciate the effort!