What The Heck Is: Organic
By The Good Market
Organic stuff is often more expensive. Take organic eggs, milk or salad greens — they can cost upwards of 60 percent more than conventional alternatives.
But what the heck is organic anyway — and is it even worth the extra cost?
Turns out, the answer isn’t so straightforward. (We know, no surprise there.) But if we were to sum it up in a sentence, this is — as far as we know — the opinion held by many scientists and nutritionists: Organic vegetables, fruit and animal products are 1) generally better for your health (either because of fewer chemicals and other additives and/or because they are more nutritious), 2) better for the Earth and 3) for local communities. If you can’t afford to buy organic all the time, though, there are certain foods that deserve priority when it comes to choosing organic.
Let’s break this down.
So, what exactly is “organic”?
Organic produce, according to the USDA, must be grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified organisms. Organic meat has to come from animals that were raised in a natural setting, didn’t receive any antibiotics or hormones, and were fed 100 percent organic feed.
When it comes to packaged foods, only a label that says “100 percent organic” indicates a product made solely with organic ingredients. “Organic” means 95 percent of the ingredients are organic, while “made with organic ingredients” indicates at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients.
(Words like “All Natural” or “Natural” don’t typically mean all that much, by the way. According to the USDA, “natural” means a product does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed. However, they may still contain antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals.)
The more you know!
Why is organic better for health?
Organic food may be better for human health for two reasons. One, they contain fewer pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals. Two, some studies have shown that organic produce and animal products may be more nutritious than conventional alternatives. A study published in February 2016, for instance, showed that organic dairy and meat contain about 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids.
Why is organic better for the planet?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are many environmental benefits of organic agriculture, including long-term sustainability, greater biodiversity and better soil health.
Organic farming also tends to be better for farming communities. Other than health concerns arising from conventional farming methods (see: dangerous pesticide exposure), “communities with more medium- and smaller-sized farms have more shared prosperity, including higher incomes, lower unemployment and lower income inequality, than communities with larger farms tied to often-distant agribusinesses,” said Food and Water Watch.
Prioritise your organic purchases
Though organic options may be the preferred choice, we know that the higher price of organic products can sometimes be a barrier. So what’s a budget- yet health-conscious foodie to do?
Prioritising your organic purchases is key, say experts.
First, when buying animal products, including eggs and milk, choose organic as often as possible (the damaging effects of antibiotics in conventional animal products are well-documented).
Second, when it comes to produce, opt for organic options for fruits and veggies known to contain higher amounts of pesticides when conventionally produced. These include strawberries, apples, nectarines, grapes and spinach.
Another useful rule-of-thumb: buy organic if you’re planning to eat the skin of the fruit or vegetable.
Also choose organic for foods that you eat a lot of. The repetitive consumption of a certain non-organic food could expose you to more harmful chemicals and thus be more damaging to health than something that you eat only occasionally.