December 13th, 2011 by Digestive Detective
I was shopping at the new Wegman's that recently opened near my home this past weekend when I came across a freezer case of "organic" foods. Immediately, the "organic donuts" jumped out at me. My spidey-sense was going crazy telling me that there were some slick ad execs behind that box of tasty treats.
Organic foods have grown tremendously in popularity over the past decade, and with the increased demand by health-conscious consumers, comes the inevitable, and unfortunate, barrage of marketing ploys aimed at twisting terms like organic to appeal to the masses. In this flood of supply to the shelves, the term organic becomes bastardized and the marketing only further confuses consumers who are trying to simply make healthier choices for their families.
The USDA has specific guidelines for foods labeled organic. They are as follows:
- 100 percent Organic. This food must be all organic or contain only organically produced ingredients before it can receive the green-and-white USDA seal.
- Organic. The food must be at least 95 percent organic before it can receive this blue seal.
- Made with Organic Ingredients. The food must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The remaining 30 percent cannot include any genetically modified ingredients.
In terms of meat and dairy, organic meats must come from animals that eat 100 percent organic feed without any animal byproducts; for dairy cows, the whole herd must have eaten organic feed for the previous twelve months. Organic produce cannot be grown with chemical pesticides or most synthetic fertilizers (only real poop people), and animals cannot be fed or injected with antibiotics and growth hormones. Organic farms undergo a rigorous certification process and are inspected for compliance by an independent agent.
Even with such requirements, there are some loopholes in the standards that can make a difference in the finished product. One main example is that of grass-fed animals: Grass-fed animals are only required to be grass-fed 30% and can finish grazing on other less nutritious grains & feed the other 70% of the time. Less nutritious feed for the animals means less nutrition for our bodies when we eat beef, chicken, etc.
As you can see these standards are the bare minimum and, such as our donut example, do not always ensure that the food is healthy. The key for consumers is to consider the actual food product itself, and review the details of how even the organic foods are raised, fed, finished and produced.
The Dirty Dozen
Cost can certainly be a concern when shopping organic as government subsidies go to conventional farmers, leaving the farming practices of organic farms to be more expensive especially when paired with the rigorous certification process. To shop smart, follow this guide from the Environmental Working Group of the "dirty dozen' - the 12 most highly contaminated and chemically-treated crops:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Grapes (Imported)
Make it a priority to purchase these foods exclusively organic.
The Clean Fifteen
On the other side of the coin, the following foods are the least contaminated/treated and are generally safer to purchase conventional:
- Sweet Corn (Frozen)
- Sweet Peas (Frozen)
- Kiwi Fruit
- Sweet Potatoes
These will be safer options that you can then save money on in your budget by purchasing conventional. For some more tips on how to purchase organic on a budget, visit here.
Why You Should Eat Organic
The reasons for eating organic are varied and include a number of benefits to both the health of the environment, animals and to your body. Purchasing and consuming organic foods reduces toxic load, keeping chemicals out of the air, water, soil and our bodies. Organic farming also helps prevent soil erosion and builds healthy soil full of microorganisms that result in healthier, more robust nutrition in our foods.
Organic food also ensures that you keep scientifically engineered matter such as genetically modified organisms and hormones like recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) out of your bodies and those of your families. These elements have not been around nor researched extensively to see the long-term effects on human populations, and many researchers and scientists are warning of their potential health implications. Eleven years ago, genetically modified food was not part of our food supply; today an astounding 30 percent of our cropland is planted in GMOs! Organic is the only de facto seal of reassurance against these and other modern, lab-produced additions to our food supply, and the only food term with built in inspections and federal regulatory teeth.
So the next time you hit the grocery store, be sure to keep these facts in mind and don't fall for dubious marketing ploys. Print out this blog and take it with you to reference what to look for and avoid with your groceries, and choose healthy, organic foods as part of your family's nutrition.
PS - Skip the donuts 🙂
For more information on organic standards, visit www.organic.org.
To purchase foods that exceed the already rigorous organic standards, visit Beyond Organic and learn more about the Beyond Organic difference.