What does "Organic" mean?


Stepping into the produce section of the grocery store, you're feeling overwhelmed with the colors and variety of foods available, then you're bombarded with signs advertising that half the produce is ORGANIC and then the other half is the regular stuff you usually get. Organic sounds flashy, better for you, and look bright, but is it worth it? It's time for a deep dive into Organic foods and what they mean.

Organic refers to the farming process to grow and produce the product you're getting. Most often, you first see this with produce and meats. Organics are produced without any artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or Genetically Modified ingredients. These also must be free from artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors or preservatives as well as MSG. Organic foods mush use natural fertilizers and cannot be raised with the use of antibiotics and hormones if the product is an animal product.

Organic is a heavily regulated term and has to be approved by the USDA in order to use the USDA organic seal. Let's not get foods labeled natural and organic mixed up though. Foods labeled natural does not automatically mean healthy, and the same goes for organic. Naturally labeled foods must be free from added colors, flavors, preservatives. The label "Natural" has nothing to do with methods to produce the ingredients at all. Therefore, sugar can be labeled natural. Chips could be labeled natural. Fried foods could be labeled natural as long as they fall into the guidelines.

Organic foods may contain more antioxidants than conventionally farmed foods due to the soil composition due to not using pesticides, the plant has to use its own and produce it's own protective compounds. However, the studies are mixed as far as if the organics have a large enough benefit with increase antioxidants. The difference is usually very small. The way to guarantee increase antioxidants in your diet is to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains in any form. A 2014 study also showed that there was no difference in risk of developing cancer based on those who only ate organic foods vs conventionally farmed foods.

For animal products like meat and dairy, there are slightly different regulations. Organically farmed animals still receive vaccines, they must have 30% of their diet be from pasture feeding (usually on alfalfa which can be the reason by organic meat will have slightly higher amounts of Omega 3 Fatty acids), must eat only organic foods ad no antibiotics ever. This means that if the animal is sick, it cannot be treated. Conventionally farmed animals CAN use antibiotics, but the product is ALWAYS tested to ensure that there is NO antibiotics ever in the milk or meat. Especially with dairy, all milk is tested and if antibiotics are found in the milk, the milk is wasted and the farmer has to pay for the wasted milk. No meat or animal product that you buy at the store ever has antibiotics in it.

The downside of Organic Farming is that it requires more land, its more expensive and time consuming for the farmer and the supply chain, organic farming needs more water to produce the final product and organically farmed foods still use pesticides, made from natural sources, to treat their foods.

All in all, eating organic foods may reduce exposure to artificial chemicals, added hormones and antibiotics but organically farmed foods are more expensive for the consumer, use pesticides and may not actually be as beneficial as believed. Use your judgement and buy what you'd like! I use conventionally farmed foods every day.