Why organic isn’t everything

Organic isn’t a new idea or concept. Before World War II, all crops were organic because they weren’t sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The USDA Organic label was put into circulation in October 2002 and has since been put on everything from bananas and tomatoes, to cereal and frozen dinners.

According to the USDA National Organic Program, “organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” In short, organic defines how the food or ingredients were created, prepared, or raised.

However, the organic label is not synonymous with health or nutrition. A small study done by Cornell University showed that the organic label greatly influenced people’s perception of food, leading them to think certain foods were lower in calories and even tasted like they were lower in fat. The organic label is no longer an informative label but rather a marketing tool used to sell us more food.

Reducing the amount of chemicals and toxins in our food is, without a doubt, important and good for our health. And when transitioning to eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, it can seem like eating 100 percent organic is the healthiest option and a must. But this may not be possible depending on where you live. Organic can be a bit pricier and sometimes cost prohibitive for some at first.

Here are four things to keep in mind when eating whole foods and choosing organic:

  • Organic cookies are still cookies: Don’t let the organic label lead you to believe that one cookie is better or healthier than another. It’s not. An organic cookie can still contain loads of sugar, preservatives and other unrecognizable ingredients. The same goes for cereals, soups, pasta dishes, and frozen dinners. Read every label and ingredient list to become familiar with what’s in your favorite products.

  • Eat whole foods: If you want to eat a more whole foods diet, don’t let the organic label make it feel impossible or unaffordable. The first step is to eat and cook with whole, unprocessed vegetables and fruits – apples, bananas, berries, cabbage, carrots, avocados, potatoes, leafy greens, mushrooms, and more! When you start choosing apples over packaged cookies your health and wallet will thank you.

  • Choose local first: By choosing local fruits, veggies, and meats, you’re supporting your local agriculture and farmers. Plus, your food didn’t have to travel thousands of miles to get to you and lose a significant amount of nutrients. Your small local farmers are likely following organic practices but can’t afford the expensive certification. Check out your local farmers market and buy most of your groceries there.

  • Learn the list: The Environmental Working Group has a list called the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. This list shows the 12 most sprayed foods and the 15 foods that are either not sprayed or have a thick skin that we don’t eat. When you are ready to start purchasing organic foods use this list as a guideline.

You can get the full list at www.ewg.org.