3 Things You Need to Know about Organic Food

Learn what it means when you buy organic produce and meat

Mayo Clinic defines organic food as agricultural products produced without antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, chemical fertilizers, chemical insecticides or chemical weed killers, and processed foods made from organically produced agricultural products. That's something most people already know. But there are plenty of other facts about organic food products that most people are unaware of. The more informed you are, the better equipped you will be to make wise choices at the grocery store. Chew on these three things you need to know about organic food:

Organic food standards are strictly regulated by the Department of Agriculture in the United States

Legally, if a company prints "100% Organic" on their product, then it must be exactly that; nothing but pure organic ingredients. No exceptions. If the label simply says "USDA Organic," then up to 5 percent of the ingredients may not be truly organic. However, each of the ingredients in that 5 percent must appear on a list of products that have been approved for use in organic foods by the USDA. And, according to the USDA, if a product is labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients," rest assured that product is at least 70 percent organic. Products that feature less than 70 percent organic ingredients are not allowed to use the word "organic" on their label, but each item on the ingredients list that meets organic standards may be listed as such.

Organic foods may offer health benefits

Although the USDA does not claim that certified organic foods offer any significant dietary benefits, the Organic Trade Association, an alliance of businesses that specialize in the production of organic foods, says that organic fruits and vegetables offer more vital nutrients and less exposure to the harmful chemicals found in non-organic produce.

Andrew Weil, the Director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, says that organic produce tends to be significantly higher in antioxidants and in Vitamins C and E, all of which are vital nutrients for human health. And although it has not been scientifically proven that pesticide residues cause any significant harm to humans, many consumers choose to avoid conventionally produced fruits and vegetables just in case.

Organic farming is good for the planet

The production of organic food also offers some environmental benefits. Chemical pesticides used for non-organic farming can damage soil, water and animals. Also, a 2001 survey published in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment reported that organic farms create less waste. Organic farms tend to use less power, too. Less power means less coal or gas is being burned to produce electricity.

But, of course, since there are no chemical pesticides, some percent of the crop is lost to insects or fungi, and lower yields unfortunately mean higher prices. Organic farms make up for their lack of traditional fertilizers by practicing crop rotation — planting a different species each year on the same plot of soil. This procedure renders much healthier soil, since the same nutrients are not being depleted from it year after year.

Organic foods and organic food stores might be a little pricier than the norm, but they do offer certain benefits. Ultimately, it’s up to you as the consumer which products you buy. As organic farming evolves, keep yourself updated so you can continue to make well-informed decisions at the food store.

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