Hi friends and fam 🙂 I know it has been a minute but I’ve been in a transition phase at work and have been admittedly working through lunch breaks instead of devoting my 30 minutes to blog stuff. Nevertheless, I have gathered some juicy research on all things organic and delve into what it means to buy organic, natural, conventional, and grass-fed foods.
Does anyone else want to laugh when they see the “Organic” label slapped on something that clearly doesn’t need to be organic such as a package of cookies? What’s the deal with organic foods anyway? Is it always necessary to shop organic? I’m going to attempt to bring clarity to this topic that can leave us scratching our heads with indecision on whether we should buy organic bananas or not…
What exactly is organic? Organic is a labeling term for food or agricultural products (fruits, vegetables, grain, dairy, and meat) that are grown in ways that support biodiversity, maintenance and enhancement of the soil and water supply on the farms. Organic farming considers conservation of lands and wildlife while prohibiting use of synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering. The other prohibited practices are using sewage sludge as fertilizer, irradiation to preserve food or eliminate pests, antibiotic usage, and MOST synthetic pesticides for pest control. Just because something is organic does not mean it is always pesticide free! The USDA has a list of “safe” pesticides that they use for pest elimination. Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
When it comes to livestock, they must be fed 100% certified organic feed in order to be represented as organic. These animals must have access to the outdoors year-round unless there is some documented environmental concern. Why should we consider switching to grass fed meats versus the regular kind? Grass feeding boosts levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta carotene and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an amino acid that may help prevent heart disease and cancer.
What about those organic cookies? Multi-ingredient products must contain at least 95% certified organic content in order to be labeled as organic. Most organic products must go through the certification process unless you’re a producer who sells less than $5000 a year in organic foods. Those distributors may label their food as organic without having it sealed with “USDA Organic.”
I was at Easter dinner at Anna’s house and she brought out an organic wine, which we all got to sample. I had always wondered what the deal is with organic wine and she mentioned that organic wine doesn’t contain any added sulfites. Sulfites are a preservative used to kill bacteria found in wine that can often cause an allergic reaction in some people. So, what is actually better in this case, to ingest preservatives or potentially harmful bacteria? Hm….
Another interesting piece of information I came across was a study conducted by Stanford University where they found that organic produce was 5% more likely to be contaminated with E.coli compared to conventional produce. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that conventional animals may be treated with antibiotics while organic animals are not.
Let’s make a distinction between foods labeled with “natural” or “organic.” Natural foods just mean that they don’t use artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, not that they were produced utilizing organic processes. Same thing applies to foods labeled “hormone free” or “free range.”
The USDA suggests that most consumers understand that shopping for organic food means no chemical pesticides. While that may be one reason they buy organic foods, another reason is that they believe organic foods have higher nutritive value and offer long-term health benefits. So what benefits are we talking about?
Antioxidant Properties: There is some evidence of increased amounts of flavonoids in some organic produce. A flavonoid is a type of antioxidant, which is a cancer-fighting property found in food. These properties are commonly found in red wine, tea, cocoa, citrus, apples, onions, and berries.
Omega 3’s: Grass and alfalfa fed livestock often result in generally higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in eggs, meat, and dairy. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that stabilize our blood lipid levels and improve our memory and cognition.
Lower Levels of Metal: Cadmium is a toxic metal found in soils and absorbed by plants. There is some evidence that organic grains contain lower levels of cadmium than conventionally produced grains.
A counter reason to not buy organic food is probably something we all can guess: cost. The reason most organic foods are more expensive is due, in part, to more expensive farming practices. The Mayo clinic suggests we still be careful when it comes to buying organic: “Just because a product says it’s organic or contains organic ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.”
So, which foods should we buy organic? Conventional foods we should consider buying over organic include fish and shellfish, onions, cabbage, quinoa, mango, banana, avocado, kiwi, pineapple, and sweet corn. The USDA does not currently provide organic standards for seafood and this food may still contain mercury and PCB contaminants. Thus, it may be more vital to buy lower mercury seafood than organic seafood. Cabbage and onions have low pesticide residue due to their natural defense for pests. Quinoa also has a natural defense system due to the saponin containing coating, a bitter compound that is undesirable by pests. The rest of the produce all have one thing in common, they are covered in a tough membranous outer layer that is generally low in pesticides. We eat all of these fruits after washing and peeling them, leaving little to no pesticide residue on their flesh.
So hopefully the take away is that not all foods should be treated the same in regards to this whole concept of “organic versus conventional.” Save money where it counts and don’t buy the foods listed above organic! If you eat the skin of the produce you buy, you may be better off buying it from the organic aisle. Focus on buying grass-fed and pasture raised meat and dairy rather than only looking at the organic label. Lastly, go support your local farms and buy from them directly! Nothing is better than making relationships with your farmers and having the ability to ask exactly what their farming process entails. I don’t do this as often as I should but I believe a little effort goes a long way for the community and your nutrition!