Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Organic Defined

What exactly does Organic mean in regards to produce and animal products?  Are these foods more nutritious or are they just safer?  Should I make the switch to organic foods?  These are some questions I have been asked over the years.  Usually I rattle off a vague answer about how we don’t fully understand the effects of non-organic on our bodies since it’s a relatively new trend and there aren’t enough long-term studies.  It’s amusing because a lot of the people who ask these questions have bigger “fish to fry” than pesticide content on their plates.  For example, a mother of a patient with Newly diagnosed Kidney Failure wanted to know if she should make organic a priority in her son’s new diet.  The Renal diet involves a long list of forbidden foods so following those guidelines should be her main priority.  Once one fully understands their special diet, I’d be happy to talk about organic.  That’s why I’ve always given vague answers- the population with whom I was working didn’t need to know about this stuff.  Now that I’m blogging about nutrition for the common man, organic seems like a pretty good topic to discuss.

What does Organic mean in regards to produce and animal products?
In order for produce to receive organic certification, it must be grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic modification, or ionizing radiation.  Animal products can’t be given antibiotics or growth hormones.  The USDA governs organic labeling in which there are 3 categories:
  • 100% Organic
  • Organic: made with at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: made with at least 70% organic ingredients and no genetic modifications
Is organic more nutritious?
Some recently published studies have shown organic tomatoes to have higher phytochemical and vitamin C levels than their non-organic counterparts. However, there aren’t enough studies to make this conclusive evidence yet.  Since a lot of non-organic produce is genetically modified to grow faster or ripen slower, their flavors and nutrient content may be compromised.  The faster an orange grows, the less time it has to absorb all the valuable nutrients from the soil leaving the consumer with an inferior product.  Many gourmet chefs are insisting on cooking with organic foods now because they believe they provide a superior taste and quality.  Keep in mind that processed organic foods are not necessarily healthier.  They may still be high in sugar, fat, or sodium.

Is organic safer?
Conventional foods use chemical pesticides to protect their crops and a lot of them retain pesticide residue.  Organic produce has much less pesticide residues so eating organic will limit your pesticide exposure.  However, all produce must abide by government safety limits so nothing in the supermarket will have toxic levels of pesticide.  One of the best guarantees with organic produce is that there are no additives, preservatives, artificial colorings, or MSG.

What are some cons to buying organic?
  • Cost: this is due to higher costs of farming and no subsidies from the government
  • Shelf-life: produce tends to spoil faster due to the lack of preservatives or genetic modification

If you can afford an organic lifestyle than that’s great.  For the rest of us (myself included), the Environmental Working Group has created a list of produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue.  I recommend  using this convenient wallet card to determine which produce is more important to buy organic:

Wallet Card for Easy Shopping

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