Many consumers equate the word “organic” with foods being “healthier.” However, there is currently no link between eating organic foods and better overall health. Organic foods can lessen your exposure to synthetic pesticides, though. And they are grown using cleaner farming methods.
The term “organic” is defined and controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It’s based on USDA inspection and certification requirements. These are the requirements that farmers, companies, and food products must meet in order to carry the organic label. They include:
- Organic produce must be grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. Farmers must use natural means to control insects and weeds. Only natural fertilizers, such as compost, are allowed. After harvesting, farmers cannot treat food with preservatives. This includes wax.
- Organic foods cannot have been altered by scientists.
- Organic farming practices must protect the land to make sure it is useful for a long time.
- Organic meat and animal products must come from livestock raised in a natural habitat. Farmers must give them organic feed, clean housing, and access to the outdoors. Farmers cannot use growth hormones or antibiotics. These products are given to non-organic livestock.
Organic farming has two main goals. The first is to reduce the negative impact on the environment. The second is to increase sustainability.
Path to improved well being
Some people see organic products as a healthier, greener option. Remember, no food type or fad is a magic bullet for your health. You have to consider if organic foods are right for you and your family. You also have to decide whether you believe organic foods are healthier.
The USDA organic label represents natural farming and processing. It doesn’t guarantee nutritional content or value. Always check nutrition labels on the packaging. Continue to follow safe food-handling procedures. Rinse your produce with soap. Keep raw meat separate from other foods before you cook it.
It is good to know the facts about organic and non-organic products. This can help you make informed, healthy decisions.
- Organic foods have various nutritional values. Some are more nutritious than non-organic, but not always. Others have the same value. For example, organic fruits and vegetables may have more minerals. This is due to how organic produce is farmed. However, some non-organic foods may be fortified and more nutritious than organic foods.
- Artificial ingredients. This is the main difference between organic and non-organic foods. Growth hormones, synthetic ingredients, and pesticides are common in foods. They may cause long-term health effects. Doctors don’t know enough yet to say for certain. Some people believe that eating organic foods may reduce your risk of future health problems. However, there is no scientific proof of this at this time.
- Flavor. Organic foods do not have preservatives. Local growers purchase them, so they tend to be fresher. They also don’t have chemicals and artificial flavors. The organic label doesn’t guarantee better flavor or freshness. But you might find they taste better.
- Environment. Organic farming is meant to be good for the environment. It reduces pollution, saves water and resources, and decreases soil erosion. Organic farmers do not use pesticides. They provide livestock with more humane living conditions. Organic foods often are sold at local stores. This reduces the pollution of shipping across the country.
- Lifespan. Organic products usually don’t last as long as non-organic foods. This is because they don’t contain preservatives. Organic foods, especially produce, can go bad quicker.
- Cost. You may have noticed that organic foods cost more than non-organic foods. This is due to the higher cost of organic farming and limited supplies. As more people use organic products, prices are likely to decrease.
Things to consider
The USDA has several different organic labels. You may come across the following:
- 100% organic means it was grown and processed using approved methods and organic ingredients. This label often is seen on single-ingredient items, like fruits or eggs.
- Organic products contain at least 90% organic ingredients.
- Made from organic products contain at least 75% organic ingredients.
Other common labels are natural, sustainable, and grass-fed. The USDA does not define or control these terms. There is no guarantee that products with these labels follow the same standards.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Are organic products better for chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure?
- Are organic products better for pregnant women and babies?
- If I can’t afford organic products, am I damaging my health?
- If I can’t afford organic vegetables, should I avoid them altogether?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.