If your idea of an organic meal consists of dry tofu and a handful of nuts, then think again. It is no longer a world of unconvincing fake meat and alfalfa sprouts. World-class beef, produce, dairy products, even chocolate and coffee are organically made. Shopping and eating organic is not only good for you, it’s good for the planet. Below is a crash course on organic and natural foods that may have you eating better before you can say “environmentally-friendly free-range chicken”.
If you haven’t noticed the increased quantity and variety of organic foods and organic food stores then it’s a safe bet that you need to get out more. This trend may have you wondering if organic foods are healthier or safer. Are they worth the extra money and how do they taste? And what does “free-range”, “grass-fed”, and “fair-trade” even mean?
To meet the organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture an organic food is one that is grown without pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, herbicides, antibiotics, bioengineering, hormones, or ionizing radiation. Organic animal products come from animals that are fed 100% organic feed products, receive no antibiotics or growth hormones and have access to the outdoors. In addition, for a product to be labeled organic, it requires inspection and approval from a government-approved certifier to ensure that the farmer followed all the rules necessary to meet the USDA’s standards. The certifier also ensures that the farmers use renewable resources that conserve the soil and water. Any company that handles the food in between must be certified organic as well.
According to kidshealth.org in order for foods to be labeled “organic” they can be:
100% organic: They’re completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
Organic: They’re at least 95% organic.
Made with organic ingredients: The food contains at least 70% organic ingredients but can’t have the organic seal on its package
In contrast, natural foods are minimally processed but don’t have to adhere to the same meticulous standards that organic foods do. Natural foods normally have no artificial ingredients or preservatives and the meat and poultry is also minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients.
The USDA does not officially claim that organic foods are safer or more nutritious than those that are not considered organic. According to WebMD a large scale study conducted by the Consumers Union found that organically grown crops consistently had about one-third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown crops. Organic foods are also far less likely to contain residues of more than one pesticide. However, experts agree that the best way to safeguard yourself from harmful pesticides is by thoroughly rinsing all fruits and vegetables regardless of if they are organic or not.
Besides lack of harmful pesticides there is another nutritional certainty of eating organic food and that is its freshness. If you want to get the most from your food, eat it while it’s fresh. Nutrients such a vitamin C oxidize over time so the longer your food sits in the refrigerator or the longer it takes to ship to you, the less nutritional benefit it has. Organic farms tend to be smaller operations and sell their products closer to the point of harvest which results in fresher and more flavorable foods.
Regardless of proven nutritional value or health benefits more and more people are becoming fans of organic foods and are buying more and more of it. Sales have risen more than 20% every year in the past decade and the Food Marketing Institute says that more than half of Americans buy organic food at least once a month.
It’s easy to find a well-rounded selection of organic products. Grocery stores offer organic produce, juices, cereals, baby food, dairy products, and more. In addition, many stores are 100% organic or natural. Oftentimes these stores are more expensive than your run of the mill grocery but it’s up to the individual to decide if it’s worth the extra money to ensure organic and natural food.