Many consumers are confused about natural and organic foods, and with good reason! There is much conflicting information, and food labels can be misleading. On top of that, buying organic can be expensive, with prices for organic foods often 50 to 100% higher than the prices of their conventional counterparts. Here are some of the questions we often get asked about organic foods:
What does organic really mean?
In order to label a food as organic, the grower or producer must follow certain standards. Organic farms and food manufacturers regularly undergo inspection to ensure that they are compliant with the USDA’s regulations on organic food. Organic food must be grown without the use of sewage sludge or synthetic chemicals and fertilizers. Irradiation is not permitted, nor is genetic modification. For organic dairy products and meat, the use of antibiotics and hormones is not permitted.
What are the benefits of buying organic foods?
One of the biggest reasons people choose organic foods is because of health considerations. Using organic foods can decrease the amounts of chemicals, pesticides, extra hormones, and antibiotics that you and your family are exposed to. Organic farming is also better for the environment. It reduces the number of chemicals that enter the water supply, does not result in the development of resistant pests, and is better for the topsoil.
What about the term “natural”?
If a label says the food is natural, does that mean it is organic? Natural does not mean organic, and it may not even mean healthy! There are no real requirements that manufacturers or farmers must meet in order to label their food as “natural”. This term is not regulated by the government, and so any manufacturer can use the word on its products. One example is the soda pop 7-UP. Although the 7-UP label says that 7-UP is “natural”, it still contains citric acid and high levels of sugar. Just because something says “natural” doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice!
So, do you really have to buy everything organic?
Not necessarily. Here’s why: some fruits and vegetables are especially high in pesticide and chemical content, while others are fairly low. Try to focus on buying the items that are higher in pesticide content organic, while buying less contaminated foods non-organic. Research shows that the highest content of PCBs or pesticides was found in dairy products, meat and fish, but the PCBs that were most toxic were found in vegetables. Some examples of fruits and vegetables that are high in pesticides are strawberries, apples, and spinach, while some that are lower are corn, bananas, and avocados. If you do eat highly contaminated produce, consider peeling it. Although some valuable nutrients and fiber will be lost through peeling, many surface chemicals will also be discarded. At the website of the Environmental Working Group, click on the Shopper’s Guide to find a wallet-sized shopping card and see a complete list of fruits and veggies and where they stand according to pesticide content.