Organic food has long been hailed for its superior taste and nutrition. But are organic fruits and vegetables really all they are hyped up to be? Before you empty your wallet at the grocery store, it is important to consider if the benefits are substantial enough to warrant this excess spending. To help you navigate the organic world, below are some guidelines to determine if your organic foods are worth the investment.
In terms of fresh produce, a product is organic if it is grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. For animals products, the animal which the product comes from should not have been injected with antibiotics or growth hormones.
Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has several types of labels for organic food, it becomes extremely difficult for the average consumer to know the quality of an organically labeled product. Below is a breakdown of the three labels the USDA designates to such products and what they mean:
- 100 Percent Organic: the product is made with 100% organic ingredients.
- Organic: the product is made with 95-99% organic ingredients.
- Made with Organic Ingredients: the product is made with 70-94% organic ingredients.
Clearly, not all organic products are created equally.
Some companies sadly package their products with misleading labels that dupe readers into believing the product is organic. For instance, even if a product says “all-natural” or “made from the earth,” it may not be organic at all. To avoid falling into this marketing trap, make sure the product you are purchasing contains one of the three labels above.
Is Organic Really Healthier?
Many recent studies have shown that organic produce does not have more health benefits than ordinary produce. For instance, an organic orange will contain just as much Vitamin C as a regular orange. The primary difference lays in the pesticides and chemicals that regular produce contains and antibiotic free and hormone free animal products.
If you are concerned about pesticide contamination, it may be better to buy these foods organically. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) refers to the twelve most contaminated food, per pesticide residue load, as the “dirty dozen.” These fruits and vegetables are tested and ranked each year, providing consumers with knowledge and a bit of a cheat-sheet on what items are most urgent to buy organic. They are (in order):
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas (imported)
By the same token, they also rank the least contaminated by pesticide load. If you are concerned about the price of organics, you might consider buying these in the conventional produce section.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Sweet Potatoes