Sunday, March 31, 2013

Should you go organic or not?

Foods must meet strict requirements to be labeled as certified "organic" by the United States Department of Agriculture (1).  Products must be produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.  However, some operations are exempt from certification, including organic farmers who sell $5,000 or less.  Foods advertised as "natural" do not follow the same guidelines as organic foods.

What does the organic label mean?
-100% organic: all ingredients must be certified organic and any processing aids must be organic.
-Organic: non-organic ingredients are allowed per National List, up to a combined total of 5% of non-organic content.
-"Made with" organic: at least 70% must be certified organic ingredients.  Any remaining products are not required to be organic but must be produced without excluded methods.

Organic does not always mean healthy, consider the type and amount of foods you are eating.  Organic baked goods, chips, and energy drinks should still be consumed sparingly just like the non-organic products.

You heard it before, but fruits and vegetables are beneficial for your health.  This benefit will be achieved regardless if the produce is organic or not, so do not let access or affordability to organic foods reduce your fruit and vegetable intake.

Overall, the scientific studies are inconclusive on whether there is a difference in nutritional content of organic compared to non-organic foods.  So, why do I buy primarily organic vegetables?  I personally believe the studies look at single ingredients of what is considered safe, and the additive effects need to be considered.  As having faced the difficulty of several family members passing away from cancer, I try to reduce my overall exposure to chemicals.  In my personal experience, environmental exposures were significant factors to the unfortunate prognosis.  Cancer causing chemicals are everywhere (air, water, food, clothes), so I try my best to regain control and support organic farmers.  Get to know your local farmers and their farming methods.  We as consumers need to constantly be questioning the corporate companies.  For me, consuming organic foods is beyond simply looking at the nutrition components.

Where do I begin?
Dirty Dozen Plus(2): apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans, kale/greens.  The Environmental Working Group has recognized these fruits and vegetables to be most contaminated with pesticide residue.

1. Organic certification resources page. United States Department of Agriculture web site. Accessed on March 26, 2013.
2. EWR's 2012 shopper guide to pesticides in produce. Environmental Working Group. Accessed on March 26, 2013.