We have more access than ever before to organic foods, but are they really worth the higher price tags?
"Organic" defined. The word "organic" means the way farmers grow and process farming (agricultural) products. According to the USDA, "Organic products must be produced using agricultural production practices that foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity." Organic is definitely better for the environment, as well as safer, healthier conditions for farm animals . If for no other reason, this can be a valid argument for someone to choose organic.
Don't be fooled by the label. Just because a product says it's organic or has organic ingredients doesn't mean it's a healthier choice. Always review the list of ingredients, and understand the USDA guidelines for labeling foods as 100% organic, organic, made with organic, or organic ingredients.
What the studies say. According to Mayo Clinic, "Some data shows possible health benefits of organic foods when compared with foods grown using the usual (conventional) process. These studies have shown differences in the food. But there is limited information to prove how these differences can give potential overall health benefits." Some of the potential benefits include:
Small to moderate increases in some nutrients, antioxidants, and flavonoids in organic produce.
Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic meats, dairy and eggs.
Much lower cadmium levels in organic grains when compared with crops grown using conventional methods.
Organically grown produce has lower levels of pesticide residue.
With this said, though, there is a lot of controversy in the literature about the potential risks and benefits of choosing conventional vs organic foods. The bottom line is that more research needs to be done, as there is not enough consistency in the findings to justify always choosing organic or not.
In future articles we will focus more specifically on how to choose between conventional and organic foods for produce, dairy, eggs, meat and grains. For now, whether you choose conventional or organic, know that just by increasing your intake of whole foods and limiting processed foods you will be improving your overall nutrition and health. Practice shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store more than the interior aisles, and expand the variety of foods in your daily intake. Find joy in trying new flavors and textures, exploring new recipes, and expressing your creativity in the kitchen.
~Nicole Hutchison, PT, CSCS, Health Coach, Integrative Nutrition Coach