Why Organic Isn't Everything

Do you want to make healthier food choices but are unsure about whether or not to choose organic? Or, do you feel like you should choose organic food but your wallet just can’t handle it?

When trying to eat more healthy and nutritions foods it can seem like eating 100 percent organic is the best option and a must. But this may not be possible for everyone. If you live in a colder climate you may have very limited access to organic foods during winter months. Plus, let’s face it, organic food can be more expensive and not affordable for everyone.

Here’s the thing….organic isn’t everything. Nor is it the only way to avoid chemicals or make healthy food choices. Plus, there’s a good chance we’re interpreting the organic label all wrong!

The USDA Organic label was put into circulation in late 2002 and has since been put on everything from bananas and tomatoes, to cereal and frozen dinners.

This is how the USDA National Organic Program describes the organic label….

“In order to make an organic claim or use the USDA Organic Seal the final product must follow strict production, handling and labeling standards and go through the organic certification process. The standards address a variety of factors such as soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

There are also four distinct labeling categories for organic products – 100 percent organic, organic, “made with” organic ingredients, and specific organic ingredients.

Suffice to say it can be kind of confusing and a lot to keep in mind when you’re navigating the produce section.

Plus, some of us might be interpreting the label all wrong!

A small 2011 study done by a grad student at Cornell University showed that the organic label greatly influenced people’s perception of the health of foods. The organic label led participants to quote “perceive organic-labeled food as being higher in fiber, lower in fat and calories, and therefore worth the higher cost.”

The study also stated that quote “study participants favored nearly all of the health-related taste characteristics of foods labeled "organic," although they were identical to those labeled "regular.”

It’s certainly important to reduce the amount of chemicals and toxins in our food for the sake of our health and the health of our plant. However, it is also important to be mindful of when that label is being informative or simply being used as a marketing tool.

Here are four things to keep in mind when choosing the best food for your health:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 or more natural growing practices but can’t afford the expensive certification. Check out your local farmers market and try to buy most of your groceries there. I would argue that a local “non organic” apple is better than an organic one that flew thousands of miles to get you.

  4. 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 helping reduce the amount of toxins we may ingest. When you are ready to start purchasing organic foods these lists are very helpful. You can see the list and read more about food labeling, pesticide use and more at ewg.org.