The Benefits of Going Organic
A few reasons you may want to double-check your food labels
Corey Malinowski—It’s been said that you are what you eat, but with so many additives and impurities making their way into our meals, that’s not a very comforting thought. If you’re concerned about pesticides and pink slime, organic foods could be just what you need. They’re made simply and humanely and are much better for the environment than conventional foods. Here are the facts on organic food, plus some tips for your next purchase.
The biggest health benefit of organic foods is their lack of pesticides. Pesticides can cause nerve damage, birth defects, cancer, and other health problems depending on their chemical makeup. Pesticides can be washed off of produce, but that still doesn’t make them entirely safe.
The health risks of pesticides don’t solely remain with consumers either – anyone involved in the growing process of conventional produce are likely to be exposed to pesticides. They can then affect others they come in contact with. This can cause serious health consequences including long term neurological problems.
Organic meat and dairy products have been shown to have higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for our bodies. They can help reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular health, fight depression, help with ADHD, Alzheimer and other mental disorders, and even improve prenatal health.
Environmental protection is a great reason to eat organic. Here are some of the many ways in which organic farming can benefit the earth:
Sustainability: Organic farmers are concerned about more than just short-term yields and profits; organic farmers focus on recognizing and preventing future problems by using their land and resources responsibly.
Soil building: Organic farming utilizes crop rotations, cover crops, organic fertilizers, and other practices to help to increase soil quality. These techniques create healthier and more stable soil and can help to enrich and preserve farmland. Healthy soil can also help to increase the vitamins and minerals in the crops being grown.
Biodiversity: Organic farming practices help to improve biodiversity, relying on plants and animals that can adapt to their environment and resist disease and weather conditions without artificial help. Since organic farms do not rely on chemicals and other unnatural substances, they also benefit the ecosystem and keep the surrounding areas safe and habitable for local wildlife.
Cleaner water tables: Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can seriously pollute groundwater when traditional farming methods are used. By ditching these chemicals, organic farms keep nearby water sources clean. Since organic farms also improve biodiversity and soil quality, the soil can more easily filter and absorb water. In areas with severely polluted groundwater, organic farming can help as a restorative measure.
When you choose to purchase organic products, you are choosing to reduce environmental pollution and ensure that farming will be stable and sustainable for years to come.
Understanding Organic Labels
The United States Department of Agriculture uses several different labels to let custumers know exactly what is in the organic food they’re about to buy. You may have noticed some of these labels on stickers, signs, and food containers. Here’s what it all means:
100% Organic: Food featuring this label is produced with only 100% organic ingredients.
Organic: Products with this label must be anywhere from 95-99% organic. The remaining percentage comes with its own set of restrictions, though, and must be approved by the NOP (National Organic Program).
Many shoppers confuse products that have the following food labels with organic foods. Though different from other commercial foods, products with these labels aren’t technically organic:
Locally grown: This label indicates only that the produce was grown at a local farm. This does not mean the product was not grown organically; the farmer may have been practicing organic methods but didn’t have the funds to pay for certification.
Sustainable: This label can be applied to company practices as well as food, but it isn’t regulated or certified in any way.
Natural: This term isn’t held to any strict standard. The Food Safety and Inspection Service does try to regulate the products given this label by requiring that the product have no artificial ingredients or color and be made with minimal processing. This only applies to edible items.
Free-Range: There is no regulation for this label; ultimately, it’s a statement made by the company producing the product. The only way to actually determine if the label is accurate is to visit the facility itself.
Fitting Organic Foods into Your Life
Though organic food has obvious benefits, it can be difficult to shop for. These tips can help you fit organic products into your life without straining your budget:
Know what to buy: Some organic products have greater benefits than others; if you want to save money you can limit your purchases to only the most essential organic foods.
Shop at a local farmer’s market: Most farmers markets will not charge the premium for organic foods that supermarkets include in their prices, making them easier to fit into your budget.
Know what the labels mean: Keep in mind that foods are given many different labels, and not all of them mean that the product is organic. If you stay informed on these labels, you can avoid purchasing products that are not organic.
Keep an eye out for deals: Supermarkets and other sellers of organic products often have sales and deals which will allow you to save money on your purchases. Keep a close eye on flyers, retailer’s websites, and other media outlets which may advertise deals.
Ask about locally grown products: Local farmers may use organic practices on their products but do not have the extra money to get them certified. If the products are not labeled organic but are locally grown, you can ask about the farming practices–you may be able to save money by buying organic products without the built-in cost of certification.
Grow your own: If you just can’t fit organic foods onto your grocery list, you may want to consider growing your own. This will allow you to eat organic and can cost even less than buying traditionally grown produce.
Although they can cost more than traditional foods, eating organic food can provide health and environmental benefits that may save you money in the long run.
Why We Should All Eat More Organic Food. Organic Consumers Association.
Organic Agriculture FAQ. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
17 Tips to Shop for Organic Foods on a Budget. Organic Authority.