Navigating food products in a grocery store takes enhanced detective skills. There are a variety of marketing tactics used where consumers believe they are selecting a high quality choice when in fact it is equivalent to foods with lesser nutritional quality. It can be hard to decipher food product information and decide whether you should buy natural foods, cage free items, organic products, food without genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and more. It is even more confusing when you hear mixed messages from the media, health professionals, and social interactions among peers. Are organic products better for you?
There are potential benefits and drawbacks to organic foods
- Organic foods do not contain genetically modified organisms, meaning they are free of GMO’s. A GMO is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an organism produced through genetic modification.
- Organic produce tends to have less pesticide residue, however if an organic farm is near a conventional farm or if the organic farm uses approved pesticides, then pesticide residue may be present on organic produce. To put pesticides into perspective, according to the pesticide residue calculator on safefruitsandveggies.com, a woman would not experience any adverse effects after consuming 850 servings of apple in one day. To calculate how many servings you would need to consume of a fresh fruit or vegetable to prevent adverse effects from pesticide residue, view the pesticide residue calculator from safefruitsandveggies.com. Whether you choose organic or conventional produce, it is important to wash product before you eat it. To remove bacteria and dirt from organic or conventional produce, wash it with warm or cold water. If necessary, scrub the produce with a brush.
- Organic foods tend to cost more than conventional products due to farming practices, so if finances are a concern, determine which products are worth purchasing organic and which ones are not. You can also look for sale items and stock up on organic products when they are on sale.
- Organic foods may also be fresher because they do not contain preservatives like conventional products do to extend the shelf life.
These potential benefits and drawbacks provide some insight, but what qualifies a product to be organic?
The United States Department of Agriculture sets the national standards for organic foods. Manufacturers must meet organic label criteria set in place by the USDA. The USDA organic seal is a good indication that you have selected a quality organic product, however a seal does not mean that the product is made from all organic ingredients. For example, for a food to have the “USDA organic” label it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and the non-organic ingredients within the product must comply with a national list, which is available here for review. A 100% organic product also presents with a USDA organic seal and contains 100% certified organic ingredients where all ingredients follow the national list of allowed and prohibited substances. If a product does not have the USDA organic seal that does not meet it is not a quality product, it simply means that the product contains less certified organic ingredients compared to products with a USDA organic seal. For example, if a product reads “made with organic,” it must contain at least 75% certified organic ingredients. For a nice visual that further explains organic labels, visit The United States Department of Agriculture Organic Labels Explained Fact Sheet.
Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks of organic products and have reviewed the basics in organic labeling criteria, you can make the selection that is best for your wellness when selecting products in the store. Are organic food better for your health? Be the judge to decide if organic foods are better for your health.