Feeling overwhelmed at the grocery store is a very common feeling! Nowadays, there are many different food options on the market with different health claims, and it can be somewhat stressful to decipher what is and what isn’t a great choice for your body. Today, we’re going to dig a bit deeper into a very common question – What’s really the difference in organic foods and non-organic foods? Our hope is that, after reading this post, next time you head out for groceries, you’ll know exactly what you want to choose and why!

01 What does organic really mean?

Organic refers to the specific way agricultural products are grown and processed. This can vary from country to country, but the USDA has set specific guidelines and regulations for organic products. Organic produce must be grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, and the crops can have no genetic modification or have any ionizing radiation. Animals that produce organic products cannot consume any antibiotics, growth hormones, animal by-products, and must have access to the outdoors and consume organic feed.

02 How do I know if something is organic?

The USDA has created a seal to help consumers identify what products are truly organic. In order to obtain this seal a certified, government-approved person comes to the farm and inspects it (and the practices of the farmer) to make sure the farmer is following all the regulations necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

03 What do all the different organic labels mean?

There are different “degrees” of organic. The “100% organic” seal can only be used for products that contain 100% organic ingredients. The “USDA Organic” seal can be used for products that contain ≥95% organic ingredients. The “Made with Organic Ingredients” label can only be used if the product has a minimum of 70% organic ingredients.

04 Are ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ the same thing?

No. Companies use the term “natural” as a big marketing technique to make you think you are consuming all “natural” products, but in reality, the majority of these products are essentially the exact same as any other products on the market that do not have the word “natural” on their packaging. The term “natural” has no legal definition when it applies to food, except for meat and poultry. The USDA says meat and poultry are “natural” if it is free of artificial flavor, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, artificial or synthetic ingredients, and if the other ingredients are “minimally processed.” As far as all the other products on the market, natural can contain toxic pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, growth hormones, sludge, and irradiation. To avoid any confusion, be sure you’re reading nutrition labels!

05 What is a GMO?

GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organism. A GMO can be a plant, animal, microorganism, or any other organism. The purpose of a GMO is to provide beneficial traits that help the plant or animal thrive in their environment. GMOs are a tool that farmers use to help grow enough food to meet supply and demand at a lower cost.

06 Why does organic seem to always cost more?

Organic farms are usually much smaller than conventional farms so they typically don’t have all the farming equipment that large conventional farms do, therefore organic farm crops require much more manual labor. In addition, organic farmers do not receive federal subsidies like large conventional farms. Therefore, organic is going to cost more sometimes.

07 Is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?

This is the golden question everyone wants answered. There is a lot of research arguing each side, and as for now, there is not a simple yes or no answer. But what research can tell you is there are individual studies that focus on certain qualities of organic foods that do have positive benefits. There was a meta-analysis conducted in 2016 that found organic dairy and meat contain about fifty percent more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional dairy and meat. They believe the increase in omega-3s is from the animals grazing on grass rich in omega-3s, which ends up in the organic dairy and meat. Another meta-analysis from 2014 found organic crops, specifically carrots, broccoli, apples, and blueberries have higher concentrations of multiple antioxidants. This increase in antioxidants is believed to have resulted from the crop producing compounds to fight off the insects. In turn those compounds produced more antioxidants. Conventional foods would be less likely to have this occur because they are protected heavily though many pesticides.

08 What is the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen?

The dirty dozen is a list of twelve produce items that have substantially higher amounts of pesticides, in contrast the clean fifteen is a list of fifteen produce items that have substantially less amounts of pesticides. The Environmental Working Group produces an updated list annually of both the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.

09 What is the best way to wash my produce?

The best way to wash your produce is by mixing one ounce of baking soda with one-hundred ounces of water and letting your produce sit in the mixture for ten to fifteen minutes. The baking soda breaks down a lot of the pesticides. If you don’t have time for that, simply rinsing your produce under running water for at least thirty seconds can help reduce pesticides.

The main takeaway here is that we should be eating more fruits and vegetables.

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