What’s the Deal with Organic? 

Should I or shouldn’t I?  

Hello everybody! I hope those of you in the US enjoyed a holiday of cookouts and honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country. In other parts of the world I hope you are having a fantastic Tuesday!

So in light of it being March Against Monsanto over the weekend I wanted to talk about something that can be a little, if not totally, confusing.

Organic. It’s a little term that’s gained a lot of attention in recent years. You see it on fruits and vegetables, you see it on a bag of chips. What’s obvious is that these two products couldn’t be more different – so how are they both organic? To better answer your question let’s trim it down to the basics: what is organic?

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The FDA describes organic, as stated here in this little executive summary (scroll down to page 2 to start reading), to be “…not only the food itself, but also how it was produced”. The FDA then goes on to list various products and the specific requirements for each.

  • No synthetic pesticides
  • No bioengineered plants
  • Natural fertilizers (aka: manure)
  • No antibiotics or hormones in livestock, and they must have access to the outdoors
  • No irradiation

So how does the term natural fit into this you ask? The short story: it doesn’t. Organic is regulated by the FDA. Any products that are organic must be certified under the National Organic Program (NOP). But even that can get tricky. There are certain levels of “organic” based on how much of the product is from organic ingredients. If you check out that executive summary it goes into more detail. Anyways, back to my point: natural” isn’t regulated. When you think of natural products think of something that’s minimally processed and free of all those artificial sweeteners and other preservatives. Sounds like a better option than regular processed garbage, right? Sure, I completely agree. But when a manufacturer puts the “natural” claim on their packaging, double check those ingredients before you buy because there’s no one regulating what goes in.

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Should I eat everything organic? It’s a pretty common question, right? Organic is expensive so I understand why people weigh the pros and cons before committing. Here’s my mindset when it comes to purchasing organic:

  • I don’t buy the boxed products made with organic ingredients (ie: organic cereal, organic granola bars, etc.) – I try to avoid any packaged, boxed goods as much as possible so why would I bother purchasing organic, processed food?
  • I don’t usually by my meats or dairy organic either – although recently I’ve been looking at wild-caught fish versus farm-raised though that isn’t the same thing. I’m up in the air with meat, poultry, and seafood as to whether it should be purchased organic. If you can’t afford the organic meat and dairy, opt for the regular kind and just stick to lean cuts and low-fat.
  • Produce is where I will splurge on the organic items, but I do so selectively because buying a whole cart of organic produce will rack up a hefty bill. So what do I tend to stick with? You might have heard of the Dirty Dozen (or maybe it’s more than that now?). These are fruits and vegetables that are notorious for containing higher amounts of pesticides. Produce on this list I will actively try and purchase organic when possible. What’s on the dirty dozen you ask? (list from the Environmental Working Group).
    • Celery
    • Peaches
    • Strawberries
    • Apples
    • Blueberries
    • Nectarines
    • Bell peppers
    • Spinach
    • Cherries
    • Kale/Collard Greens
    • Potatoes
    • Grapes (Imported)

But what if I can’t purchase anything organic at all? That’s ok! As long as you’re fueling your body with fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whole grains you’re still doing fantastic! Any fruit or vegetable is better than a box of cookies. If you don’t have the money to splurge on organic, don’t sweat it. In fact, if you have access to a farmer’s market you might even want to give one of those places a try too. The more local you purchase your produce, the less likely it is to be contaminated with chemicals. Click here to find a farmer’s market near you!

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So what are the take-home messages here?

  1. If you have the means to purchase organic, aim for choosing organic produce over the boxed products or meats and dairy.
  2. If you’re on a tight budget, opt for those on the dirty dozen listen (keep an eye on it, sometimes it changes up).
  3. If you can’t afford organic, no sweat! Just stick to purchasing non-organic produce and fuel your body right!

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Image Credit: Image 1 (foodwinethyme.com); Image 2 (www.usda.gov); Image 3 (thegreenforks.com)

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