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Organic food can mean a number of things and it can feel confusing when trying to make the best decision for your family, when going through the grocery aisles! Let me share with you what Organic means, the different categories, and how it affects your food so you can make the best decision for you and your family.
When it comes to food, Organic refers to a way of farming where produce is grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. With livestock, the animals producing meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. Now I’m sure organic farmers have found ways to grow crops with some sort of natural pest control so they can mass produce, but going these extra steps costs more money. This is why organic goods are more expensive.
In the United States, to market your food as organic, it has to be certified organic and meet standards established by the government and it’s regulatory agencies.
The following 4 categories, for organic labeling, have been established by the USDA.
- 100% Organic. All ingredients are certified organic; label has to include the Certifying Agent. These products can use the USDA seal.
- Organic. At least 95% or more ingredients are certified organic. USDA Organic seal is used.
- Made With Organic Ingredients. Food items contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients. USDA organic seal NOT allowed, and the label must identify organic ingredients used.
- Specific Organic Ingredients. Product has less than 70% certified organic ingredients. USDA seal NOT allowed. Item cannot be listed as organic; may only list specific and percentage of organic ingredients.
Organic disqualification also includes the use of Irradiation OR Genetically Modified Organisms.
Irradiation is used on fruits and vegetables to kill pests, slow growth, ripening and sprouting, and sterilizes the produce from infectious organisms like Listeria or E. coli. The radiation process exposes fruits and vegetables to an energy source that creates free radicals. Free radicals do damage in your body at the cellular level.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) A GMO is an organism that has had its DNA modified to produce a similar plant. We modify plants to produce crops resistant to pests, grow faster or ripen slower. Some crops do not need irradiation as the alteration has eliminated the problems. Some GMOs are resistant to fungus, thus eliminating the need for pesticides. Many crops are modified to boost their nutritional value.
Now that we know a little more about organic foods – let’s look at why one should eat organic, and the benefits.
Eating organic plants reduces our chances of chemical exposure from pesticides, free radical damage, and other possible risks from GMOs. In the case of livestock, organic means animals are not exposed to antibiotics or hormones. For example, high levels of the hormone estrogen in chickens can affect tumor growth in humans. If you have this problem, you may want to limit your purchases to strictly organic meats.
It’s not easy to go 100% organic. There is a lot of information out there, it’s expensive, and it’s dependent on availability. Living in an industrialized society as we do, we don’t have the ability to completely eliminate toxins. There is, however, help available when negotiating our choices for eating smarter and healthier.
The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public on toxins and contaminants in the environment. One of their many resources I really like is their list of “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen”. They used the chemical residue data produced by the USDA to rank the popular fruits and vegetables that have the most and least pesticide residue on them. Here’s the link to the handy list I keep in my purse when I want to buy organic.
Here are the top five of each category.
The top 5 fruits and veggies that have the most chemical residue on them according the USDA chemical residue data are apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries and grapes. Notice these are all fruits. Spinach is number 7 and collard greens is also included. So if you are going to buy organic, these would be a good choice.
Here are the top 5 fruits and veggies that have the least chemical residue on them according the USDA chemical residue data: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage and sweet peas. These would be foods you feel good buying non-organic if you don’t feel like buying all of your food organic.
Tip you can use to remove pesticide residue and kill bacteria from your hard skinned produce: Wash your produce in a 3:1 solution of water to vinegar (white distilled), and put it in a spray bottle to clean smooth fruit like apples. For green leafy or bumpy produce like broccoli, you can fill a bowl with the solution and soak the produce for about 2 minutes, then rinse with plain water to remove the vinegar. Since this also kills bacteria, you can do this with your organic produce too.
I hope this article has given you some more ammunition and ‘food for thought’ when deciding what to buy and what to feed your family. Happy shopping!
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