Organic: Is It Really Worth It?

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organic food, organic Last Saturday our internship class was invited to attend the annual meeting for dietitian’s in the DC area.  I’m learning to really love going to these short day conferences.  You always get meet some really cool people.  Plus, the hosts picked out some good talks, great exhibits and really awesome speakers.  Amongst the interesting topics of the day were artificial sweeteners, binge eating disorder, athlete nutrition and updates on organic foods.
The organic produce  talk was pretty interesting and put some long time myths to rest.  Even among the entire room of dietitians, there was a lot of misinterpretations on what constitutes an organic product.  I thought dietitians probably aren’t the only ones that are not 100% clear on organic foods, so I figured I’d share some of the information I learned with you.

usdaTo start, let’s review the actual definition of organic:

  • Organic Produce – The production method use to grow produce integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.  Also, GMO products are not allowed either.
  • Organic Processed Foods – at least 95% or more ingredients have to be organic.  The product will denote on the label if it is 100% organic.  However, both types can use the above USDA certified organic seal.

organicNext time you’re shopping and you want 100% organic, make sure the packaging says 100%.  That wasn’t something I knew…technically by law it only has to be 95% organic in order to use the USDA seal.  Good to know.  Other interesting organic factoids include:

  • Organic produce and foods are not any healthier (in the terms of nutrition) than conventional (non-organic) foods.  The same vitamins, minerals and fiber are found in an organic apple compared to a conventional apple.  Don’t be misled into buying a more “nutritious” product just because it says organic.
  • If you’re most concerned with ingesting pesticides and chemicals rather than the environment, know that there are many foods that aren’t necessarily affect by conventional farming methods.  For example, you peel oranges and bananas, never consuming the peels.  Any chemical residue is on the peel and is not consumed.
  • Organic foods are generally more expensive than conventional.  You might think this is odd considering the farmers are using LESS chemicals.  But it takes a lot more work and usually some crop loss to keep up an organic farm.  Thus the higher costs.
  • Don’t be confused with other marketing words.  Natural, free range, cage free, no added hormones, humane, etc are not synonymous with organic.  Only foods and produce with the USDA certified organic seal are truly organic.
  • Another myth – organic foods and produce don’t have to be washed as thoroughly before consuming.  Not true. There are plenty of naturally occurring bacteria, viruses and toxins in the soil and processing equipment that can contaminate organic produce.  So wash it just as you would conventional produce.
  • Organic foods are not necessarily better for the environment.  Take this example:  you have a choice to buy organic strawberries from California (we live in Virginia) or local conventionally grown strawberries?  Those CA berries are going to travel 3,000 miles in a super polluter mac truck. Gotta think about all aspects.

Well, I hope you learned a little something.  I sure did at the conference!  If you have any questions about organic or conventional foods, farming practices or regulation, you can check out the USDA website by clicking here.  They have a lot of great information and extensive lists of different farming techniques, allowed/not allowed substances, farms, definitions, other resources and more.

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