Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is Organic Really, Well, Organic?

It is a known fact that people would unconsciously pick the organic version of food over the regular if both options were the same price. In fact, people unconsciously go the extra mile and rate organic food as better tasting and lower in fat. But in today’s world, is “organic” more than a simple buzzword?

What does “organic” really mean?
Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced from plants that were grown without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. So technically, third-world style. If you're in a third world country, you're most likely already eating organic.

Why should you really care?
The fact is that most organic food has not been proven to contain fewer calories, and has not been proven to be more nutritious than conventionally grown food. The trick manufacturers use is that they sell “organic” as “natural” but these are two different things.

For example, you can say white rice is organic if you didn’t grow it using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, but white rice is heavily processed. Conversely, you can say brown rice is not organic, but it is natural and unprocessed and much better for you.

This is not to condemn organic food though. The pesticides, fertilizers, and other products actually may have long-term effects besides your waistline. The chemicals have been known to affect our long-term health, and may be promoters of diseases like cancer. Besides, health is not the only reason people want to go organic. Some people do it for humane reasons, and others do it for environmental reasons.

So what organic food should we truly truly care about?
In some cases, it does actually pay to go organic. Here are a few:
  • Dairy: Organic dairy contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Meat: Organically raised animals tend to have less saturated fat.
  • Thin-skinned fruits and veggies: For veggies and fruits where the skin is eaten (like strawberries and potatoes), it is a good idea to stick to organic as much as possible because the chemicals easily seep through the fruit or vegetables.
Chemicals usually can’t seep through fruits with thick skins like bananas so being organic or not usually doesn’t make a difference. Also, processed foods like chips and cookies barely have any pesticide residue since we don’t eat them raw.

What does the “organic” label mean?
The good news? Governments have established rules on what can be called organic or not. And so companies cannot just slap on a Government-Certified-Organic label if it isn’t. However, small manufacturers can still slap on a crappy organic label so pay attention.

The Government-Certified-Organic label tells you that a product is at least 95 percent organic. Not 100, but 95. If you want something that is 100 percent organic, the manufacturers would usually say “100% organic” on the label.

Again, organic is great, but an even better option is natural unprocessed foods. Look for items that have very few ingredients, and try to stick to ingredients you can pronounce where possible. Forget about labels. Because a company says "all natural" does not mean much nowadays. Pay attention to the ingredients!

Questions, comments, concerns on organic or natural food? Ask away!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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