Organic FoodsPublished 7:54pm Saturday, June 14, 2014
From Ashley Corbett, MS, RD, LDN
As I walk through the grocery store, I’m not surprised why so many ask whether they should buy “organic” food products. Organic foods are everywhere! I’ve seen organic fruits, vegetables, pasta, bread, sugar, etc. and it can be confusing on whether we should choose to buy that version over a “non-organic” version. With the help of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), let’s discuss the topic of organic foods.
What does organic mean?
Webster’s dictionary’s definition of “organic” is “involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer, of plant or animal origin, without the employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides.” The USDA states that organic is a term, used on food packaging, which means that the food was produced through approved methods. The USDA then lists that unapproved methods include synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering. Basically, if you see the USDA organic seal, on the label, then you can know it fulfills the requirements to be labeled as such.
What about the labels that say “free-range” and “natural.” What do they mean?
There are labels, on food packages, that are voluntary. Here are a few descriptions of each:
- Free-range. This label means that the animal was provided shelter with unlimited access to food, fresh water and to the outdoors. This label is regulated by the USDA.
- Grass-fed. This label means that the animal received the majority of their nutrients from grass. This label is regulated by the USDA; however, it does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides.
- Natural. This label means that the USDA requires that meat, poultry and egg products be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients; however, this label does not regulate standards of farm practices.
- Humane. This label claims that animals were treated humanely; however, the USDA does not regulate this claim.
Should I buy organic foods?
The answer to this is based on your own health & financial concerns, regarding your diet. There is much debate on whether Americans should consume more organic foods and whether there are links to cancer if we choose not to consume organic foods. In 2010, The President’s Cancer Panel Report recommended that “food be grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones, to help decrease the risk of contracting cancer.” However, the American Cancer Society states that “at the levels these compounds are found, in the food supply, lowering the risk of developing cancer is not a reason to justify choosing organic foods.”
There is also the issue of the price of organic foods versus the cost of conventionally grown foods. As someone who grows food in the backyard, I realize how expensive it is to grow foods organically and have seen how more expensive organic foods are in relation to the conventional foods in the grocery store. Americans must eat more fruits and vegetables and if all you have access to or can afford is “non-organic” items, then eating ample amounts of these is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all!
If I choose to purchase some organic foods, what foods would be recommended?
The Environmental Work Group (EWG) put together two lists to help consumers make these decisions. The lists are below:
- The Dirty Dozen
(EWG recommends these be purchased as “organic” due to conventionally grown versions testing positive for 47 different chemicals)
Celery – Peaches – Strawberries – Apples – Domestic Blueberries – Nectarines – Sweet Bell Peppers – Spinach/ Kale/ Collards – Cherries – Potatoes – Imported Grapes – Lettuce
- The Clean 15
(EWG states these do not need to be purchased as “organic” as there were little to no traces of pesticides found.)
Onions – Avocados – Sweet Corn – Pineapple – Mango – Sweet Peas – Asparagus – Kiwi – Cabbage – Eggplant – Cantaloupe – Watermelon – Grapefruit – Sweet Potatoes – Sweet Onions.
Basically, it’s your decision on whether choosing an organic version, of a food, is the best decision for you and your family. We are blessed to have the option to choose between organic or conventionally grown food items and both versions contain the same good nutrition that we all need!
Ashley Corbett, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietician at Vidant Wellness Center and Vidant Beaufort Hospital.