In my practice, I see a bit of confusion and misinformation on the meaning of organic foods. The topic itself can be a very polarizing one, so I am not here to move you in either direction. However, I want you as a consumer to have a clear understanding of what it actually means, so you can make an educated decision for yourself. The subject is a rather large one, so I will break it down over a few posts. Today, I will share and answer the questions I am commonly asked by my clients.
What does organic mean?
Let's start with a working definition. Organic as defined by the USDA:
"Organic is a labeling term that means a food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods combine cultural, biological and mechanical practices that encourage cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity."
As it pertains to crops, the USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides and geneticallly modified organisms were not used in the production of the crop. In regards to livestock, the seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.
How do I know if a product is certified organic?
The product must carry the USDA organic seal which means that the food producer has adhered to the production guidelines set by Congress in the Organic Food and Production Act.
Why do people buy organic?
There are several main motivators for purchasing organic. Most choose organic products out of concern for the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and their potential effects on human health. Animal welfare concerns are also a motivator. Others people report increased quality and taste with organic food products.
What organic is not.
Food marketing has perpetuated the term "organic" to be synonymous with "healthy", but that isn't the whole picture.
Buying organic does not necessarily mean that a food in low or high in calories, fat, sodium or any other nutrient. There are organic fruits and vegetables and organic processed foods like chips and cookies that can still be loaded with fat, sugar, salt or other additives. So, unfortunately, all the same rules apply for healthy eating, even when that box of cookies says "organic".
Eating organic is a personal choice, but whatever you decide, choose whole foods with the least processing- meaning fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean dairy and protein sources
Would I tell you to choose the non-organic apple over the organic processed chocolate chip cookies? Yuuup, every time.