Many supermarkets have started offering their shoppers a choice in produce: organic or conventionally farmed. This can leave many wondering just what the difference is.
The truth is, both foods taste the same – or very close. Both have the same vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, so what is the big difference?
It comes down to two major areas: safety and nutrition. That is what consumers need to understand when they are trying to make a decision on whether to purchase foods that have been conventionally farmed, or foods that are organic.
What is “organic”?
Organic is an often misused word but the true meaning is that the term refers to how food is grown and processed. Organic farming is intended to encourage water and soil conservation as well as reduce pollution.
Organic farming does not use chemicals for controlling weeds, eliminating insects, or fertilizing. Most of the methods are completely natural. For instance, an organic farmer may use natural fertilizers to enrich the soil, strategically placed plants to control insects, and mulch or crop rotation to control weeds.
Organic vs. conventional foods
Conventionally farmed products will often use chemicals for insect control and weed control. They often use some type of processing on their foods.
The fertilizer used in planting often has chemicals. The foods may even be genetically modified. Animals may be injected with steroids and hormones which can cause unpleasant or even harmful side effects.
Organic foods do not use any chemicals, they are not genetically modified, and they are not injected with antibiotics or steroids. The food has been very minimally processed – if at all.
There are no additives that don’t belong and could be potentially harmful. Organic foods are safer for human consumption and they are typically more nutritious.
How to identify organic foods
In the United States, a food or product that is labeled as organic is required to be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA has a certification program for organic growers and it has a set of very stringent standards that the product or food must meet.
There are some exemptions. For instance, a producer who does not sell more than $5,000 annually just in organic foods is not required to get the certification although they do have to adhere to the USDA’s stringent requirements for organic foods.
When a food carries the USDA Organic label, it means that it meets the requirements. While organic producers are not required to put the label on their products, many do.
The labeling varies, depending on the type of food. Single ingredient foods like eggs, vegetables, and fruits are considered to be 100 percent organic and are allowed to carry the USDA seal.
Foods that contain two or more ingredients, like breakfast cereal, are still allowed to use the USDA seal, but also must include the following information:
- Organic – The product must be 95 percent organic or greater in order to be able to use this term
- 100 percent organic – The product must be completely organic or all of its ingredients must be organic
- Made with organic ingredients – The product contains no less than 70 percent organic ingredients
If the product has less than 70 percent organic ingredients, they are not allowed to use the word “organic” anywhere on their product labels.
Health benefits of organic foods
The greatest health benefit of organic foods is what it does not provide. Organic growers do not use synthetic pesticides to protect their crops from disease, insects, and molds. This means that the food itself has never been touched by these chemicals.
Organic foods also do not have the food additives that conventional foods often do. They are free from artificial sweeteners, flavorings, and colorings as well as preservatives and monosodium glutamate. This means that eating organic means that you aren’t putting those chemicals into your body. Plus, many people say that organic foods simply taste better.
If you have further questions or concerns about your particular diet, please ask us! Dr. Todd P. Sullivan can help guide you toward a more healthy life, including the foods you consume.