Organic Foods

Organic foods are now part of the mainstream food supply as fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, eggs, canned goods, cereals and snack foods are flooding the store shelves. Based on consumer demand for organic food products, sales are projected to grow at an astonishing rate. Perhaps the most important question of all is: Are “organically produced” foods healthier than “conventionally produced/grown” foods?

What is Organic Food?

The word organic refers to the way farmers grow, handle and process the foods we eat. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. Organic foods are grown and produced without the use of chemicals in favor of more earth-friendly practices. The standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic food production and handling. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” the farm and processing plants must be inspected by a government-approved certifier.

There are two major categories of organic foods: fresh and processed. Fresh organic foods include the common fruits and vegetables, and the less common meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. These foods are produced without using pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, or hormones. Major food companies have also entered the organic food market with a variety of breakfast cereals, snack foods and canned products.

What Does the Organic Food Label Promise the Consumer?

Ideally speaking this label should be on foods with at least 95 percent organic ingredients. You may not find the seal on every organic food, since the use of the seal is voluntary.

“100% Organic” label indicates that every ingredient in the food is certified organic.

Some foods contain organically produced ingredients, but not at a high enough percentage to qualify for the organic seal. If a food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, the words “made with organic ingredients” can appear on the label, along with a list of up to three organic ingredients. Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can't use the word “organic” on their product label.

Does “Natural” Equal “Organic?”

No, the terms natural and organic are not equal. You may see other terms on food labels, such as all-natural, free-range, or hormone-free, but don't confuse them with the term “organic.” Only foods that are grown and processed according to organic standards can be labeled “organic.”

Are Organic Foods Healthier?

There is currently no scientific evidence that shows organic foods are safer, more nutritious, or healthier than conventionally grown food products. The bottom line: both organic and conventional foods provide equal nutritional value in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Since there is no strong research on either side of the issue, it is important to choose a variety of foods, organic or conventional, that fit into a healthy lifestyle.

Whether you choose organic foods or not, consider these tips:

Buy fruits and vegetables in season to ensure the highest quality. Purchase your produce the day it is delivered to the grocery store to ensure freshness. Also, enjoy the abundant, fresh produce this season available from your own gardens, local farmer's markets, roadside stands and pick-your-own farms.

Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water to reduce the amount of dirt and bacteria. Use a small scrub brush on apples, potatoes, cucumbers, or other produce in which you eat the outer skin.

If you're concerned about pesticides, peel your fruits and vegetables and trim outer leaves of leafy vegetables in addition to washing them thoroughly. Keep in mind that peeling your fruits and vegetables may also reduce the amount of nutrients and fiber.

Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it's organic or contains organic ingredients doesn't necessarily mean it's a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.

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