You’ve probably heard mixed opinions about whether buying organic is better or just an overpriced option at the grocery store.
You might also be frustrated with having to sift through a bunch of confusing marketing labels, such as “natural” or “cage-free” when you’re just wanting to choose a carton of eggs to cook your kids breakfast.
So what does the “organic” label truly mean, and is it worth buying?
Let’s take a look at what organic truly means and if it’s worth it for you!
What is Organic?
Unfortunately, the organic label isn’t one simple answer, but it’s for a good reason!
To achieve USDA organic labeling, farmers must go through very rigorous auditing to ensure that their manufacturing processes and equipment match the designated guidelines.
There are many different requirements based on the type of farming, but organic generally means that no synthetic pesticides, chemicals, or genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) can be used in crop production. It also promotes environmentally and soil friendly practices like crop rotation, which benefits the natural ecosystem.
Organic animal products must come from animals raised on organic food only that was produced to the same standards and they cannot be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. It also establishes better animal treatment, as the animals must have some ability to graze in a natural way.
Happy animals make higher quality products!
When it comes to processed foods with multiple ingredients, the organic label designates that the food is made up of organic ingredients and does not contain any artificial preservatives, flavors, or added colors.
These organic standards create a considerable environment and promote a healthier work environment for the farm workers!
What is Organic Not? 3 Myths
All organic farms are completely free of synthetic pesticides or GMOs
Due to the tight regulations, it’s easy to think that organic products have never been exposed to synthetic herbicides or pesticides and are completely GMO free, but this is not always the case.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to control ALL exposure to these during agricultural production. This is because there's been many cases of pesticide runoff from nearby conventional farms that leak into an organic farm. Or, there are cases where seeds from a nearby farm that uses GMOs will blow over into an organic farm and cause the field to no longer be GMO-free, without the farmers being aware.
Organic foods aren’t tested for this post-production. So, while you probably aren’t consuming many pesticides or GMOs on an organically based diet, it’s not realistic to think that everything you're consuming perfectly matches its label.
Organic means “healthier”
Just because something was produced with organic ingredients doesn’t mean the end product is necessarily always a healthy choice. Take organic candy or soda for example! Buying organic can help eliminate a lot of unhealthy ingredients and poorly produced foods, but don’t assume it’s always healthy.
Organic means that NO pesticides and herbicides were used in production
The USDA allows for certain organic pesticides and these are commonly used in organic farming, just not any synthetic (human-made) ones. Neem oil is a common one to see. It has been studied not to harm birds, fish, bees, or have any studied adverse effects in humans. While the products you use may be safer and potentially less toxic, buying organic doesn’t discount ALL forms of pesticides.
Is It Really that Important To Avoid Pesticides?
Yes! At the least, limiting the exposure to them is important for health.
Studies have found that the long term ingestion of pesticides and antibiotics have been linked to hormone and endocrine disruption, cancer, hyperactivity, peripheral neurotoxicity, DNA damage and many more adverse health conditions.
Scientists are learning more and more about what long term pesticide exposure can do to the body. While this may directly affect farm workers or those living near large-scale farms more than the average consumer, you are still exposing yourself to these dangerous compounds everyday if you are consuming non-organic foods.
Is Buying Organic Always Better?
It depends on what you and your personal health goals are, but yes, it may be better to buy organic. Even if not all groceries, at least for most things!
This is great news, because the nutrient density of foods has dropped greater than 40% for certain nutrients in the last 70 years due to poor conventional agricultural methods and rising carbon dioxide levels.
Which is why *hint* so many of us struggle with low magnesium levels! (If your Vessel tests are showing “good” magnesium levels, you can give yourself a little pat on the back right now). If you have no idea where your magnesium levels are at, try Vessel now to find your levels today!
Is It Worth the Extra Money To Buy Organic?
Not only does organic farming benefit the environment, it can grow more nutrient dense food. So is that extra $1 worth it now?
While the short answer may be yes, it doesn’t necessarily mean food is bad, harmful, or poor quality just because it isn’t organic.
Spending extra on buying organic food may be beneficial for health. But as a whole, healthful foods that you are buying are probably more important than the labeling. So if buying organic is out of your means, focus instead of just buying nutrient dense foods!
And, you don’t need to make it a priority to have everything you purchase be organic. Ideally, there are certain produce items you should consider always opting for organically due to their known high pesticide content, while others it may not be as worth the extra price tag for.
Another way to look at produce is how it’s grown and what natural protection it has. For example, If a fruit has a thick skin or rind that you must cut into or peel away to get the part you want to eat, it’s likely that the outer layer provides some barrier from the pesticides to the actual fruit body.
Of course, fruits can still absorb chemicals through some skins, but it may limit the amount you’re eating.
So a non-organic avocado or banana might carry less risk of pesticide content than a ground fruit like a strawberry that has no protection and is right there soaking in everything from the soil.
Make Do With What You Got!
Just make sure to rinse non-organic produce with water before consuming, and some scientists even recommend peeling off the skin to limit your exposure.
Need a handy guide on which produce you should keep an extra eye one?
The Environmental Working Group puts together a list every year of the produce that you should aim to buy organically due to high levels of pesticides, called the Dirty Dozen.
Currently on the EWG’s 2022 Dirty Dozen list is:
- Kale, collard and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
On the other hand, here is a list of non-organic produce that the EWG considers to be “clean” or containing significantly less pesticides, called the “Clean Fifteen”. While it’s possible that some of these items could be more nutrient dense in an organic option, if pesticides are your main concern, you don’t need to worry as much about spending the extra dollar on these goods!
Currently on the EWG’s 2022 Clean Fifteen list is:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet potato
Will You Be Buying Organic?
Organic can be confusing!
While at the end of the day it may be more beneficial to health to focus on whole, fresh foods rather than worrying about the labeling, knowing how organic produce can benefit you is important to consider.
When buying organic options, you have less likelihood of ingesting dangerous chemicals as well as a likely increase in your nutrient intake, and you are supporting agricultural practices that do more to respect our natural ecosystems.
Pro tip: Consider going to the EWG website and taking a screenshot on your phone of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen foods, so that while you’re out at the grocery store you can easily check which list a food item may be on!
We know labeling and grocery stores can still be overwhelming, especially with all the diverse options available to us these days, so don’t ever hesitate to reach out to your Vessel nutrition coach for help!