Organic items are hugely popular in stores right now and product lines are continuing to expand and grow. Big companies want to get in on the money-making band wagon that the organic craze has produced. But what exactly does “organic” mean and is it truly better than non-organic?
Organic foods are foods that are produced without the use of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and, in the case of fruits, vegetables, and grains, are not genetically modified. It carries with it the assumption that animals used for meat, dairy and eggs are treated with better living conditions, but that is not always the case, and labels on eggs can be especially misleading.
The USDA has designed a labeling system for foods with very particular and strict guidelines. Understanding this labeling system is helpful in identifying the nature of the food that you are considering for purchase. An organic label placed on any single food item such as fruits, vegetables, and meats designates that food item as 100% organic. Multiple ingredient items, such as pre-packaged meals, cereals or crackers may carry the organic label if 95-100% of the ingredients are organic. The label “Made with Organic Ingredients” designates that the food product contains at least 70% organic ingredients, and the label “Contains Organic Ingredients” designates a food item with less than 70% organic ingredients. The label “All-Natural” or “Natural” means absolutely nothing!
But are you really purchasing better quality food when you purchase the organic label? Is it worth the extra money? The answer to that question depends on what you are buying. Single ingredient items are better than their non-organic counterparts. Fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices should contain much greater quantities of vitamins and minerals, due to better growing soil conditions. They also have the benefit of the lack of pesticides. Flour and grains are worth purchasing because you can ensure they are not genetically modified. The animals raised for organic meat, eggs and dairy products most likely have not have been treated differently than other market animals and may have been raised in cramped, dirty living conditions, but they do have the benefit of not containing antibiotics and growth hormones. If possible, I strongly recommend purchasing these items from a local farm where the animals are exposed to fresh air, sunshine and fresh food. It makes an incredible difference in the quality of your food!
Organic cereals, crackers, cookies, breads, canned soups, and a plethora of other items line the grocery shelves. These items may have originally contained higher quality ingredients, but the whole way of processing a food to keep a long shelf life often negates any benefits. Processed foods have been cooked at extremely high temperatures, thus stripping them of any health benefits, in order to maintain a long shelf life. Any processed food should be severely limited or completely eliminated to ensure a healthy diet. Try making your own cookies, crackers, french fries or soups. Even if you use non-organic ingredients you will still reap many healthy benefits by reducing the additives found in the products on store shelves.
With the onset of a new year, many people are determined to eat better and lose weight. A great way to do this is to start shopping around the perimeter of your grocery store where you will find the fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, and dairy products. Even if you choose non-organic items, you will still experience great health benefits!