Why Buy Organic?
There was a time when organic seemed like a fad, a new food hype that attacked shelves and our budgets. As it has stuck around for more than three decades, it may be about time to ask ourselves what that green and white label actually means. Is organic actually healthier? Does organic food taste better? If you buy organic, does everything on your grocery list need to be organic? Let’s take a look at what it means, how the government defines it, and what we can do to protect our pocketbooks from going overboard on foods that may be just as good without that prestigious seal of approval.
First, let's take a look at what organic actually means and how it compares to terms like “all-natural,” “grass-fed,” “free-range,” and “pesticide-free.” Starting with organic, we want to pay attention to whether it is 100% organic, simply organic, or made with organic ingredients. If a package says 100% and has the USDA stamp, then it is exactly that. Every last crumb is organic.
If it has the more common green and white emblem that simply says organic, that means 95% of the ingredients by weight are organic. The other 5% are not, but that doesn’t mean the remaining ingredients are necessarily harmful. There are rules about what they can and cannot use, so the 5% must come from items on the USDA-approved substances list.(1)
If a package says made with organic ingredients, then only 70% of the ingredients need to be organic. As labels are written with the highest quantity ingredients listed first, down to the lowest, check to see that most of the organic foods are listed at the beginning. If they are all at the end of the ingredient list, then look at what foods are first and determine their risk as non-organic foods.
Foods that have other qualifiers like “all-natural” are a little more difficult to assess as these terms are used by marketers and not monitored by the FDA or any other government service. If you trust the brand, then you may want to opt for these additional healthy terms. “Grass-fed” and “free-range” are incredibly important if honestly printed because neither are conditions of organic meat, dairy, or eggs.
To be labeled organic, only 30% of the animal diet has to be grass; otherwise, it can be corn or grain as long as it’s organic. As for living a life in the sunshine and wandering over green pastures, also not the case. They are to have access to the outdoors and sunshine, but there are no specific time requirements or location checks. The USDA does not enforce the rule with poultry at all, so your organic chicken and eggs may have still spent their entire lives in a pen.
If animal products are in your home, look for the organic stamp to avoid heavy doses of antibiotics in your foods along with growth hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Even eggs and dairy are affected when not organic. Animals can be fed GMO corn, grains, animal byproducts, and even sewage sludge. Also look for “free-range” and “grass-fed” alongside that organic stamp. They may not be monitored by the government, but the third party organizations, like American Grass Fed Association or PCO Certified, who set the standards for these two labels have stringent guidelines.
For the plant-based eaters out there, does it really have to be all or nothing with organic produce? If you can afford it, go for it, but as there can be up to a 20% mark-up with that coveted green and white stamp, some frugality can go a long way. Let’s start by understanding what the seal of approval actually buys us.
The biggest and sometimes most shocking truth about organic produce is that it is not exactly pesticide free, but it is free of the most harmful pesticides regularly used and will have a much lower quantity of pesticides on the produce in general. Organic farmers use the PAMS system, prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression. If their methods do not work, they can use products approved by the US Department of Agriculture which are composed of naturally occurring organisms and plant derived insecticides. That being said not all organic pest, weed, and disease prevention is healthy, so always wash and scrub your produce no matter where it comes from.
Another common assumption is that organic is healthier and tastes better. Fresh produce is healthier. Studies have shown that organic produce has higher levels of antioxidants and of course lower levels of toxins and chemicals. Packaged organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. A candy bar is still a candy bar. So be sure to keep basic diet knowledge in check when shopping and monitor additional sugars, fats, and sodium even in your organic plant-based snacks.
Does it taste better? Some say yes. Some say no. It is most likely fresher as there are no added chemicals to keep it from spoiling, and it is most likely produce that is being sold in season. However, temperature, soil, fertilizers, and location have a lot to do with flavor as well. Try to buy locally sourced produce that is labeled organic and pesticide free for the healthiest and tastiest foods.
Lastly, is it all or nothing? No! Check out the regularly updated lists for the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen for produce that has the least and the highest pesticide saturation. If you haven’t had time to look, opt for organic when buying greens or fruits without a peel. Produce that has thick skin is usually fine to buy as the chemicals rarely penetrate the flesh of the fruit or vegetable.
When you’re shopping for healthy, high protein snacks, be sure to check the ingredient label and look for whole foods listed first and the 100% organic or organic stamp to signify that most of what you are eating is free of chemicals, GMOs, and toxins. A good place to start is with IWON Organics puffs and stix when you want a satisfying snack or protein granola clusters when you need more than just a nibble. To start your day off right try plant-based protein crunchies cereal with a plant derived or all organic milk.