Organic foods have exploded in popularity over the last two decades.
There are countless decisions to make while strolling through the supermarket aisles, not the least of which is whether or not to buy organic. The organic food industry is a booming business, and it’s expected to grow even grander as more and more foods of organic origin make their way onto store shelves. But the debate about whether organic foods are healthier than their conventionally-produced counterparts remains.
Table of Contents
I. What Is Organic Food?
The term “organic” refers to the process of how certain foods are produced.
For food to be certified organic by the Department of Agriculture, fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts must be grown without the use of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and may not contain genetically modified organisms or GMOs. (Produce can be labeled organic only if it has been grown in soil that has had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.) The National Organic Standard Board, however, does allow a few synthetic substances to be used in organic agriculture that they deem non-toxic.
Organically grown crops tend to use natural fertilizers like manure to improve plant growth. Animals raised organically are also not given antibiotics or hormones.
Organic farming tends to improve soil quality and the conservation of groundwater. It also reduces pollution and may be better for the environment.
II. Benefits Of Organic Food
1. Avoid chemicals
Many people choose to buy organic food in order to avoid artificial chemicals. Eating organically grown foods is the only way to avoid the cocktail of chemical poisons present in commercially grown food. They are often fresher because it doesn’t contain preservatives that make it last longer.
One study found that levels of cadmium, an extremely toxic metal, were 48% lower in organic produce. In addition, pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in non-organic crops. More than 600 active chemicals are registered for agricultural use in America, to the tune of billions of pounds annually. The average application equates to about 16 pounds of chemical pesticides per person every year. Many of these chemicals were approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before extensive diet testing.
2. More nutrients
Organically grown foods have more nutrients—vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and micronutrients—than commercially grown foods because the soil is managed and nourished with sustainable practices by responsible standards. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine conducted a review of 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of organically grown and conventionally grown fruits, vegetables, and grains and concluded that there are significantly more of several nutrients in organic foods crops.
On average, organic foods provide: 21.1% more iron (than their conventional counterparts); 27% more vitamin C; 29.3% more magnesium; 13.6% more phosphorus.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide.
GMO foods do not have to be labeled in America. Because organically grown food cannot be genetically modified in any way, choosing organic is the only way to be sure that foods that have been genetically engineered stay out of your diet.
4. Avoid hormones, antibiotics and drugs in animal products
Conventional meat and dairy are the highest risk foods for contamination by harmful substances. More than 90% of the pesticides Americans consume are found in the fat and tissue of meat and dairy products.
The EPA reports that a majority of pesticide intake comes from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products because these foods are all high on the food chain. Antibiotics, drugs, and growth hormones are also directly passed into meat and dairy products. Tens of millions of pounds of antibiotics are used in animal feed every year. The union of concerned scientists estimates that roughly 70% of antibiotics produced in the United States are fed to animals for nontherapeutic purposes.
Organically-raised animals tend to be given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which help to keep them healthy. Choosing organic animal products is unyieldingly important, especially for children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.
5. Reduce pollution and protect water and soil
Agricultural chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers are contaminating our environment, poisoning our precious water supplies, and destroying the value of fertile farmland. Certified organic standards do not permit the use of toxic chemicals in farming and require responsible management of healthy soil and biodiversity.
According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, it is estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests. The bulk of pesticides (99.%) is left to impact the environment.
III. How To Know If You’re Buying Organic Food
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set up an organic certification program. This means any farmer or food producer selling organic food must meet strict government standards. If you decide to choose organic, it’s important to look for the USDA organic seal.
Also, watch for these statements on food labels, so you can identify food that is truly organically grown:
- 100% Organic: This product is made entirely from organic ingredients.
- Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients in this product are organic.
- Made with Organic: At least 70% of the ingredients are organic.
If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, it cannot be labeled organic or use the USDA seal. Similar standards are enforced in Europe, Canada and Australia. Each country or continent has its own seal to help consumers identify organic food.
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