Organic foods may seem like nothing more than a more expensive alternative but the numerous studies supporting their increased nutritional value and powerful benefits are definitely priceless.
Many of us choose to skip past the organic section at the grocery store because it doesn’t make sense to pay a higher price for what-seems-like the same product. However, the reality is, organic products have significant differences that separate them from their non-organic counterparts. And those differences can determine just how healthy specific food items are for your consumption. So, before you take a bite out of that pesticide-soaked apple or chow down on a preservative-filled frozen dinner, let’s get down to the root of organic foods and the health advantages that come with every bite.
What is Organic Food?
The term “organic” is used to describe food that has been grown or farmed without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and without the use of genetic engineering, sewage sludge as fertilizer or radiation.
They’re farmed and grown with natural substances and processes only, so there’s no synthetic pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial colours, synthetic flavours, or human-made fertilizers used.
Organic food also undergoes organic farming processes, which are designed to improve soil and water quality, cut pollution to provide healthy, safe places for animals to live. Organic farming also enables natural animal behavior and promotes a self-sustaining cycle of resources. Livestock is provided with healthy living conditions and they must have access to the outdoors, be fed organic food and be provided with shots to protect against diseases. Thus, not only is produce grown ethically, but livestock is as well.
Now, you can find organic versions of all several categories of foods, but the most commonly purchased organic foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. However, not all organic foods are created equal and some may not be as nutritious as you think. For example, there are still several organic products that are high processed that are high in calories, sugar, salt and added fat, such as organic cookies, sodas, chips and ice creams. So, it’s important to still make healthy choices when selecting foods to eat.
What Qualifies Food as Organic?
In the simplest terms, in order for food to be considered organic, it must be free of artificial food additives, including artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, artificial fertilizations, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and GMOs. Furthermore, the food must have been grown on soil that hasn’t had any of the prohibited substances applied for at least three years prior to harvest. This includes sewage sludge, genetic engineering, and ionizing radiation, artificial fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, hormones
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a certification program that requires all organic food to meet these strict standards, which were put in place to control how the food is grown, handled and processed. In order for a product to be labeled as organic, it must be certified by this program which requires the following:
- Must be overseen by a USDA NOP–authorized certifying agent and follow all USDA organic regulations
- Produced without the use of any excluded or prohibited methods, including:
- Genetic engineering
- Sewage sludge
- Ionizing radiation
- Artificial fertilizers
- Synthetic pesticides
- Growth hormones
- Produced using only allowed substances
The only exception is if a producer sells less than $5000 of organic food in a year. If so, they don’t have to go through the certification process or be certified but they must follow the guidelines for organic food production.
Is It Organic?
The easiest way to tell if a food product is organic is to check the label. Organic food can be labelled as organic in three ways depending on the level of organic ingredients used. For example, the categories are:
- 100% Organic: Product must contain 100% organic ingredients. Most raw, unprocessed and minimally processed crops can be labelled as such. These typically include a USDA seal or have a 100% organic claim
- Organic: Must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. Only up to 5% of ingredients can be nonorganic agricultural products or items on the ‘National List’, which may only be used if they an organic option isn’t commercially available. These typically include a USDA seal or have a 100% organic claim
- Made with Organic [Ingredient]: These products must contain a minimum of 70% organic ingredients and have a number of detailed restrictions regarding ingredients that make up the nonorganic portion. They are often labeled with “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients or ingredient categories)”. They cannot have a USDA organic seal anywhere, nor can they represent the finished product as organic, or state “made with organic ingredients”.
- Organic Ingredients: Products that contain organic ingredients have less than 70% cannot be labeled as organic, nor can they use a USDA seal.
Benefits of Organic Foods
Eating food that isn’t produced or processed with the use of any chemicals is certain to have its advantages. But what may surprise you is that the benefits of organic food flows well into all aspects of life – from human health to animal health, the environment, and much more. Here’s a brief look at some of the top reasons to eat more organic foods.
- Increased nutrients: Organic produce has shown to have more vitamins, minerals, enzymes, nutrients, antioxidants and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. So, not only do organic foods eliminate the chemicals but they also give you more of the healthy components you need.
- More antioxidants can help prevent serious health concerns: Antioxidants have many positive health advantages, including the prevention of heart disease, cancer, vision problems, premature aging, and cognitive malfunction.
- Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids: Organic livestock is required to be fed organic food, which allows organic meats, dairy and eggs to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy fat.
- Low toxic metals: Harmful metals, such as cadmium commonly found in soil, have been found to be lower in organic grains when compared to conventionally-grown crops. This is believed to be a result of the ban on synthetic fertilizers for organic crops.
- Decrease chemicals in your diet: Eating organic foods that are grown and processed without the use of any synthetic substances or processes instantly decreases the amount of chemicals, especially pesticide, in your diet. These chemicals have been linked to a vast array of potential health problems.
- No more harmful GMOs: Organic foods are free of GMOs, which have been shown to slow brain growth, and known to cause internal organ damage, gastrointestinal disorders and issues with the digestive tract.
- Boosted health: With no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives used in organic food, you’ll have a cleaner diet, which can lead to better health.
- Better for the earth: Since harmful chemicals are forbidden in organic farming, there is minimum water, air, and soil pollution, making it much safer and healthier for the environment.
- Improved taste: Since organic crops are provided with more time to develop and mature, they tend to be far tastier than their conventionally grown counterparts.
- Stronger immune system: Eating organic reduces your intake of growth hormones used in conventionally grown foods, which can weaken your immune system. The higher vitamin and mineral content in organic food can also help to strengthen your immune system.
- Lower levels of nitrate: High levels of nitrate are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, so having less of them in your diet by eating organic can help lower this risk.
Research suggests that organic foods are healthier and considerably safer, and also tend to be even tastier! With the elimination of harmful chemicals and artificial substances from your diet, you can expect a significant increase in your overall health and wellbeing. You can also feel good about the foods you’re eating, knowing that they’re providing you with an extra dose of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and just as great for animals and the environment. But not all products labelled as organic are created equal. So, it’s important to know what the differences are and to always read the ingredient list so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.