Q: It seems like “organic” food is all the talk these days. What makes something “organic”? Should I be buying organic food instead of regular food?
A: Thanks for the question.
For an item to being certified as “organic”, the production of that item must meet specific standards set by the USDA. For example, synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering are not allowed in growing “organic” foods. The farming methods used must also follow practices that help conserve the environment.
The “organic” label is just one of many that the USDA controls. They also certify “free range”, “cage free”, “natural”, and “grass fed” food. Each of these terms has a specific definition, which can be found here.
None of these labels, importantly, certify anything about the nutrient content of foods. So far, research has shown that conventionally grown foods and organic foods are similar in their nutrients. So if the food is the same, why buy organic?
One major advantage of buying organic food over conventionally grown food is that you can avoid some of the chemicals used in the production of conventional foods that may not wash off very easily, especially with produce that has thin or edible skins. On the other hand, organic food is more expensive, and organic produce tends to spoil a little faster since it isn’t treated with wax or other preservatives.
Another reason people buy organic food is because it is considered more environmentally friendly. While this may be true, it doesn’t change the nutrition of the foods, which is my focus.
All in all, I worry more about eating a balanced, healthy diet of fruits and vegetables than I do about whether the food I buy is organic. If you can’t afford organic strawberries, you are still better off eating regular strawberries than a McDonald’s hamburger. Just make sure you wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, eat a variety of foods from many different sources, and try to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season. You can also avoid residues on your produce by peeling off the skins, though you will lose some fiber and nutrients as a result.
Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts (or privately if you prefer)!