The Big Deal About “Organic”

Q: Is organic food more nutritious?

A: Not necessarily. The term “organic” is defined by the USDA. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy must come from animals given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Plant foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables,  grains, legumes) must be produced without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, genetic modification or  irradiation. The government inspects every organic farm to make sure it meets these standards. There  are three levels of organic food claims:


100% Organic:Products that are completely organic and are produced organically at every step. For example, in a 100% organic trail mix, all the nuts, raisins and granola must come from organic fields and be processed in organic factories.

Organic: At least 95% of a product’s ingredients meet organic standards.

Made with Organic: At least 70% of a product’s components are organic. (If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the USDA forbids the use of the word “organic” on the label.)

Organic agricultural principles are kinder to nature and to farm animals, but are organic foods healthier? The jury is still out. In March 2008, The Organic Center completed a review of scientific research and found that organic plant-foods are more nutritious, on average, than conventional foods. In contrast, a September 2009 study funded by the UK Food Standards Agency and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no evidence of significant differences in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foods (Dangour, et al). Until research is more conclusive, non-organic foods have the same nutritious components – vitamins and minerals included – as organic items. The difference lies in growing practices.

I realize buying everything organic is nearly impossible and can get very expensive. Here are 5 tips:

1. Buy dairy products free of artificial hormones, which force increased milk production in cows.  The health risk to humans is controversial, but recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been banned in the European Union for over 15 years. “Hormone-free” milk is not hard to find (you may already be drinking it!) and does not cost a lot.

2. If it’s a fruit or vegetable that you eat without peeling first, such as grapes or celery, think about buying the organic version. On the other hand, when you remove a thick skin off produce (like on an orange or banana), you reduce consumption of the chemicals used during farming and production anyway.

3. If the fruit is prone to soaking up a lot of chemicals during farming, buy organic. For example, non-organic berries and thin-skinned peaches are likely to retain a lot of chemicals, even after washing.

4. Due to body size, chemicals are more toxic to children. The government deems pesticides “safe” when used within certain restrictions, but it is especially important to limit a developing baby’s or child’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

5. Always thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables under running water! This can remove dirt particles, as well as some of the remaining pesticide or fertilizer used on non-organic produce.

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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables

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