Is Organic Food Healthier?
For years we’ve all heard about the benefits of organic food vs. non-organic food. We’ve been told that processed food is horrible for us. But what really makes organic food so special? What are some ideas we have about organic food that are really just misconceptions? And is organic food healthier than
What Makes Organic Food Organic?
- Has been grown in soil that has not had synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used on it in over 3 years (per USDA)
- It was produced on a certified organic farm (per USDA)
- If it is organic meat it has been fed only organic feed and the animal has not received any antibiotics or hormones. Has to be raised in as close to its natural environment as possible.
- Is not GMO (or genetically modified organism)
- If it is a packaged food that says, ” was made with organic ingredients”, it must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
*Definitions made using the USDA statements on organic food.
Using these statements as a guide, one could definitely say that you would be better off eating organic as opposed to non-organic. Considering most non-organic foods that are produced today are made with many questionable ingredients. Some of these additives have not been tested for long-term effects on humans. But just because it’s organic does that mean its good for you? To figure that out we need to look at some commonly held myths about eating organic food.
Myths About Organic Food
When it comes to integrating organic food in to your diet there are some common myths that you should be aware of. Sometimes people get tripped up by these and can be doing more harm than good.
- Organic food will not make you gain weight: (an organic cookie is still a cookie): This is SO NOT true. Even though organic cookies most likely contain fewer additives and other bad ingredients. They, unfortunately, will still have other things that should be avoided if you are trying to slim down. ie: sugars, carbohydrates, and certain types of fat.
- It’s way more expensive than conventional food: This can be true for some organic foods but not all. And it really has a lot to do with where you buy from as well as what kind of foods you purchase. Non-organic foods tend to be highly subsidized. Because most processed foods contain some form of corn or soy product they are usually less expensive.
- Organic foods contain more nutrients than non-organic food: This is a hot button topic and still hasn’t truly been resolved. A study done on the health benefits of organic foods vs. non-organic has shown that there is little nutritional difference between the two. If you scan the bottom of the study it gives the conclusion. They did note that organic food might be safer in that they found less pesticide residue on organic food tested. The biggest difference was noted in the meat. “…the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork…”
What Are the Disadvantages of Eating Organic Food?
One of the main disadvantages o
- Lack of availability: Switching to an organic diet can be extremely difficult for those that live in areas known as “food deserts”. Surprisingly even in developed countries, it can be difficult to get high-quality organic food.
- Trusting Brands: Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know what brands can truly be trusted as organic. It really does pay to do some research. There have been many cases where a brand claims to be organic and it is discovered later that they were misleading. The labeling and laws pertaining to this are still relatively new.
- Confusing labels: This can be one of the biggest pains when trying to buy organic food. Up until recently, labels stating a food was organic could be quite vague. Some great examples of this are the labels on eggs. Cage-free, farm fresh, all natural, etc… What does it all mean?!? Here’s a great guide to what the “Organic” label by-law in the United States means.
Advantages of Organic Food
There are many advantages that can make organic food healthier for you than conventional food. The ways that it does might surprise you.
- Uses fewer chemicals to produce: Certified organic foods do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in their production. That means you are not ingesting these harmful chemicals and they are not being released into the environment. That is a HUGE health benefit in more ways than one.
- Many organic food companies try to use better packaging: Companies that sell organic foods usually are conscious of their impact on the environment and tend to use more recycled packaging. Or packaging made out of less harmful materials.
- Small Farm supporters: Many organic food companies try to use suppliers local to them. When they create packaged food they are supporting local economies by using ingredients from farms near their production facilities.
- Ingredients: Many organic food products are made with fewer ingredients. So you won’t find many hard to pronounce items on the back of their label. This is good when you are trying to manage your diet and need to know what’s in your food.
Things to Consider When Switching to Organic Food
A lot of times when people try to convert their diet to more organic they don’t really have good habits to begin with. Like I mentioned above an organic cookie is still a cookie. It’s like choosing the lesser of two evils. It’s fine to want to slowly make changes that are beneficial to your diet. I actually do that myself. Surprise, not all the food in my house is organic or grown in our garden! Changing everything at once usually has less chance of sticking for most people. But you really have to think about the reason you are doing it. And whether or not it is worth some of the added expense.
I think any of the small advantages organic foods have over conventional are worth the extra cost to me. I have an illness that has shown to be severely affected by eating meat that contains hormones that conventional farm animals are treated with. And this is one of the reasons many people might consider switching. The small nutrient difference between organic and non-organic food doesn’t negate all the many other benefits in my opinion.
In our home, we grow as much as we can, choose organic for most that we don’t grow, and treat ourselves to some junk on occasion. It’s really up to you whether or not you think organic food is healthier for you. I think the best any of us can do is eat local, in season, and as many fruits and veggies as you can.
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