You’ve likely seen organic products offered at many of the places you shop. You’ve also probably noticed they come with a higher price tag. What exactly does it mean to be “USDA certified organic” and is it really better for you?

The most basic way to define organic is animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. Produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in order to qualify as organic farmers, producers must use renewable resources and aim to conserve soil and water to enhance the environmental quality for future generations.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based doctor Gracie Lyons, who is also a certified raw nutritionist and yoga instructor, started eating organic when her son was just four months old. Lyons’ son had developed a severe case of eczema. After doing her own research and seeking medical advice she changed his diet in an effort to help him and also changed her diet as a result. Having had a strong interest in organic natural foods through college and medical school, Lyons’s interest continued to grow due to her son’s medical issues. Eating organic, particularly raw organic food, made her feel energetic and healthy.

Lyons admits that there is a big debate currently on whether organic food is actually more nutrient-rich and healthy 1380137051-organicthan non-organic. She emphasizes that’s likely not what we should be focusing on. “It’s the pesticide load that the body has to handle from heavily sprayed conventional food that adds toxicity to our bodies, not to mention the toxic effect it is having on our land, air and water.”

Erin MacDonald, RDN, a nutrition, fitness and wellness coach/co-founder of U Rock Girl ( encourages people to beware of the following myths surrounding organic food.

Organic Always Means Healthy.
People often mistake organic for healthy. While organic food can offer some benefits to the body, there are a lot of foods that are organic but not necessarily good for you. For example, fatty cheeseburgers can technically be organic but that doesn’t mean most dieticians are going to recommend that people eat them regularly. People who shop organic should be mindful to still follow a well-rounded diet made up of lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.

All-Natural is Synonymous with Organic When It Comes To Food.
These are very different labels. As a matter of fact, there is no government regulation on all-natural food. Natural foods simply means it originally existed in nature. MacDonald is quick to point out that arsenic comes from nature, but that doesn’t mean people want it in their healthy diet.

Seafood Can Be Organic.
The seafood industry is not regulated by the USDA like that of the meat, dairy and poultry industry. Therefore, there is no United States government approved label for organic seafood.

Organic Foods are Super Foods.
There is no uniform definition for the term superfood, nor is there an official list of super foods. However, Wikipedia cites that the term is “sometimes used to describe food with high nutrient or phytochemical content that may confer health benefits, with few properties considered to be negative, such as being high in saturated fats or in the case of processed products: artificial ingredients, food additives or contaminants.” With that in mind, some organic products might be considered to be superfoods according to the definition but many would not.

Organic produce can cost up to 40 percent more than regular produce, which may present financial challenges for some. Consumers need to weigh out the benefits in their own mind to determine whether organic eating is right for themselves and their family. Regardless of that choice, it is still more beneficial to include vegetables and fruits in your diet, even if it means consuming non-organic items.


The Dirty Dozen
Switching to organic eating can be costly, which is what makes the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list very useful. The Environmental Working Group regularly analyzes Department of Agriculture data to determine which foods have the highest levels of pesticides. The dirty dozen is a list of those fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that individuals can eliminate 80 percent of the pesticides in their diet simply by buying organic when they purchase these foods:
cherry tomatoes
hot peppers
nectarines (imported)
sweet bell peppers


When shopping organic, keep this information in mind:
Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
Not all organic products are created equal. Different types of foods require different labels. Educate yourself on what they mean in order to make the best choice for you.
Some ingredients are exempt from the organic definition because they are too difficult to source organically. These include foods using sausage casings, celery powder, fish oils and some coloring.
Only foods certified as at least 95 percent organic are allowed to carry the USDA certified organic label. MS&F

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