Organic food is wildly popular and is present almost everywhere we go. Even the British branch of McDonald’s claims they have been using organic milk since 2017 to prepare their beverages (1)! Today, organic foods have a reputation for being better for the environment and your health than traditional products, but do they really live up to the hype?
The truth is, food grown using organic farming techniques is far more expensive (from 10% to 50%) than common products. But should you spend the extra cash on organic food when conventional food looks and tastes great? Are there any health benefits of going organic? We are unpacking the benefits and myths around organic food:
Organic farming ensures that the food that reaches your table has no fertilizers, pesticides, or antibiotics. Generally, reducing the amount of artificial chemicals in your diet is always good for your overall health. Simply put, certain food items are more nutritious than their traditional counterparts.
Now, we understand that navigating when or how to buy organic food is not always easy. There are hundreds of options out there and all of them seem to be equally good on the surface. If you need a little help, keep on reading: we will walk you through (and debunk) some of the most common myths and facts around organic food so you can start shopping smart!
What Is Organic Food and Why Is It Popular Today?
Organic farming has become increasingly popular and consumers are spending billions (2) every year on this type of food. But what is it really? Why is it trendy? Organic produce refers to food that has been produced using certain practices and techniques designed to enhance the quality of the soil and water, and reduce pollution, amongst other goals.
Some practices that are not permitted when it comes to organic food production include not using:
- Synthetic substances, such as fertilizers (manure is preferred).
- Non-natural pesticides and irradiation for crops.
- Antibiotics for farm animals.
- Genetically modified seeds or growth hormones.
- Sweeteners and preservatives.
This ensures that organic produce is always doesn’t contain certain substances (3) that can harm your health in the long run. Today, the most common products people buy include fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat, eggs, and dairy products. You can also find processed items made of organic components like cookies, desserts, or bread.
Now, we know that the organic food industry is sometimes shrouded in mystery. Is it really worth it to pay twice as much for organic strawberries when traditionally-grown ones look just as delicious? Keep reading to discover when to eat organic and how to choose the best products for you!
#1 - Myth Busting
While organic food is certainly beneficial for our bodies and minds, many myths surround this type of food. Let’s bust these myths!
Myth 1: Organic Food Has No Pesticides at All
Unfortunately, organic is not the equivalent of pesticide-free. Farmers still use these substances to treat their crops, but the good news is that these pesticides are not synthetic and are completely safe for your consumption. Recent reports by the United States Department of Agriculture show that 99% of organic fruits and vegetables are within safe and acceptable limits when it comes to artificial chemicals (4).
However, before going organic, you should also take into account that a lot of conventionally grown food is already free of pesticides: on average, only 38% of conventional food tests positive for these chemicals. Mangos, pineapples, asparagus, avocados, sweet corn, and mushrooms are grown without them and can generally be safely bought.
Conversely, the Environmental Working Group (5) every year releases a list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables (tested after being washed in people’s kitchens), among which are strawberries, spinach, and apples.
So, if you are looking to avoid unhealthy pesticide residue in your diet but don’t want to pay extra for organically produced fruit, you can consider buying items that typically carry almost no pesticides.
Myth 2: Organic Food Has More Nutrients
Have you ever bought a red, shiny (and expensive) organic apple believing it had more vitamins and nutrients than a common one? Well, think again! Not all organic produce has more fiber, minerals, or any type of nutrient than non-organic food. Apples, in this case, are exactly the same in terms of nutritional value. However, they may differ in taste or, more importantly, in the type of substances found on the fruit.
But some other items are much more nutritious if you buy organic, such as milk. Cattle raised organically usually feed off grass and alfalfa, which results in higher levels of omega-3. This type of fat is considered to be good, as it lowers your risks of suffering from heart disease, depression, and arthritis, among other benefits.
Myth 3: If It Says “Organic”, Then It’s 100% Organic Produce
For a food item to receive the organic label, the USDA establishes that at least 70% of ingredients should be organic. But the other 30% may not be! That box of delicious cereal you always have for breakfast may have the label that reads “made with organic corn”, while the oat, honey, and other ingredients may be traditionally grown. If you want to buy 100% organic, you should read the label very carefully and make sure all the components are organic.
Myth 4: Animals Live Longer in Organic Farms
When it comes to organic meat production, farmers are not allowed to use antibiotics to treat their animals’ diseases. As a result, you’ll obtain antibiotic-free meat that is much healthier for your consumption. However, this also means that farmers are left with fewer options to cure sick animals. Research shows, for example, that piglets in organic farms die 50% times more than piglets who grow in traditional farms.
#2 - Facts, on Facts, on Facts!
Now that we’ve debunked the most popular myths regarding organic food, we should take a look at the most important facts about organic products. If two apples provide you with the same types of vitamins, minerals, and fiber (and both of them look shiny, red, and delicious) which one should you choose? Here are some of the most important facts you should get before you shop.
- Organic food contains fewer heavy metals and synthetic pesticides. This is not a myth: organic food is grown without using antibiotics or dangerous pesticides that can affect your health. Even if the National Organic Standard Board allows for some synthetic substances, such as pheromones (5) to be used, they are considered to be safe when used in traditional farming. Additionally, as organic produce uses different fertilization techniques, food has 48% fewer chances of having traces of cadmium and other toxic heavy metals that can affect your kidneys and liver (6).
- Healthy fats for all. Most people back away from fats, especially when trying to lose weight, but fats can not only be good but also necessary for your health and well-being! A number of products can contain additional vitamins and minerals that can be found in healthy fats. This is often the case when livestock is raised consuming a grass-based diet and spend more time outdoors.
- Fewer antibiotics in your diet. Conventionally raised livestock is typically fed antibiotics to protect them from disease. Additionally, they can also be injected with synthetic hormones so they’ll grow or produce milk faster. As you can imagine, traces of these substances can enter your system when you consume non-organic milk or meat, which can even contribute to antibiotic resistance in your body (8) and poor gut health. In this respect, buying organic produce is much safer and can reduce the amount of synthetic and unhealthy substances you encounter.
- Eat fresher fruits and vegetables. Organic produce is grown without preservatives that make them last longer. Consequently, if the products you find in the grocery store or market look fresh, it’s because they are and their shelf life may be shorter.
#3 - When to Eat Organic
One of the most common concerns regarding when to eat organic or not is money. This type of food is generally a lot more expensive than conventional produce. It is important to weigh which items are worth the additional cost and which ones are not. For example, traditional apples are usually full of pesticides so going organic is a good investment in your health and well-being in the long run.
Additionally, going organic will bring about a number of benefits not just for you, but also for your neighborhood. You can buy organic produce in a local market or directly from a farmer in turn supporting your local community.
Here are some tips to select the best organic products for you:
- Choose fruits and vegetables in season. Tomatoes, for example, are in season from May through October in the Northern Hemisphere. If you try to buy organic tomatoes in December, it’s not likely that you’ll find any and if you do, they will probably be crazy expensive!
- When in doubt, ask! If you decide to buy at a local market, chances are you are going to meet the farmers who grow the fruits and vegetables you want to buy. In case you have doubts about their farming methods or what type of substances they use to keep pests away from their produce, you should ask them! They will probably be happy to explain how they grow the delicious fruits and vegetables that will reach your table.
- Look for seals or stickers that certify food’s organic status. And don’t forget to read food labels if you are looking for packaged products! Some ingredients may be organic but others may not be.
- Shop around. More and more grocery stores are incorporating organic products into their offering. This means you can compare prices at different shops, your local farmer’s market, and even online!
- Choose wisely. Remember that organic is not the same as healthy! Organic junk food like desserts and snacks are still high in sugar, cholesterol, sodium, and other substances that can harm your health if you don’t keep an eye on what you are eating.
Go Organic or Go Home
All in all, the organic food industry has become part of our daily lives and has no intention to leave. While at the beginning it can be hard to understand the nuts and bolts of buying organic produce (and not go broke in the process), you can start slow and take all the necessary facts and advice into account to make the most out of your experience at the local organic market.
Incorporating fruits and vegetables into your daily routine is critical to feeling and being healthy and organic produce is another tool you can use to enhance your diet. If you are on a budget, you don’t necessarily have to buy everything organic. Start by taking baby steps, reading labels, and looking for alternatives at local markets and groceries stores. You soon will be able to strike the perfect balance between the traditional and organic food you need to always be healthy.