The term “organic” means that the food was grown and produced without:
- artificial additives (sweeteners, preservatives, MSG, coloring, flavoring, etc.)
- genetic modification (GMOs)
The production processes must be verified and approved to get the official USDA “Organic” label. You might see one of these three labels on your food:
- 100% organic – made exclusively with organic ingredients
- Organic – At least 95% of the ingredients are organic
- Made with organic ingredients – At least 70% of the ingredients are organic
Other countries have similar standards and seals to label organic and non-organic foods.
Organic Foods Are Healthier
Studies have found that organic food is typically higher in antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients and lower in nitrates, pesticide residues, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and dangerous heavy metals.
Antioxidants fight the damaging effects of free radicals in our bodies. These free radicals accumulate naturally in our cells, but they will incite inflammation and disease if the antioxidants do not control levels.
Plants are always the best source of antioxidants, and organically grown produce appears to have even more than non-organic alternatives. This may be because the plants produce antioxidants as a response to stress. Organic produce tends to face more struggles and eustress – good stress, in the sense of “what doesn’t kill it makes it stronger” – so they adapt to create more secondary metabolites (antioxidants) to deal with those stressors.
When artificial chemicals are utilized to enhance the plant’s growth, they have an easier time growing big and pretty. This makes them more excellent and cheaper to market in grocery stores, and less nutritious.
Not All Organic Food is Healthy
Just because a food is labeled, “organic” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Items like chips, cookies, candy, soda, ice cream, and other junk foods are sometimes organic.
These are made with organic ingredients, but they contain high calories and little nutritional value. They are often full of sugars, salts, and added fats which won’t do your body any good.
If you want to eat healthfully, focus on consuming a wide variety of organically grown vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, unprocessed grains and whole-grain products, nuts, and seeds.
You can also get organic dairy and meat if you are concerned about the antibiotics and hormones that are sometimes given to cows and poultry.
Are They Really That Different?
More studies are needed to determine exactly how different organic and non-organic foods are.
Non-organic foods are very common and unlikely to be that dangerous or unhealthy. Because of the lowered cost and increased yield of non-organic farming methods, these practices have made it possible for many people worldwide to get enough food on their table affordably.
Eating organic food will probably give you a little boost of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, but it isn’t a magic bullet for disease-free living.
Eating more fruits and vegetables of any kind is always a smart choice.