Eating organic foods has evolved from being a fad to being a legitimate and increasingly popular all-encompassing lifestyle choice with proven benefits.
Proponents for organic foods believe that eating organic shouldn’t really be something to choose or not to choose. In some countries, the majority of the populations eat food grown in their own farms – those in the city have increasing access to produce from local farmers.
Organic foods are foods that grow naturally without any artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. Some foods have an organic label but not all do, and not all labels are foolproof. At HueTrition, we believe that you should know what it is you’re eating in order to make informed decisions about your health. So here’s our guide to organic food.
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Organic food is produced using standard organic farming practices that respect and adhere to ecological biodiversity. Organizations test for chemical residue in order to certify these foods. Smaller farms, however, are often exempt from certification. That means they can market their produce as organic without certification (but while still adhering to the National Organic Program standards).
These are foods produced from plants with altered DNA through genetic engineering. The alteration is done by genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Genetically modified foods are enhanced using hormones and other synthetic ingredients. Not all GMOs are completely bad. Golden rice helped kids in developing countries get the Vitamin A they lacked and some GMO corn is modified in order to be herbicide free. However, planting of GMOs has been proven to deplete soil health and cropland, and we do not yet know all of the potential unintended consequents of consuming GMOs. Some GMOs have been shown to cause illness and premature death in animal test subjects, and there may be a connection between GMOs and the rise in allergies.
Apart from the wide spread belief that organic food offers more nutrients, there is no supporting evidence to make this a fact. Having said that, the popularity of organic foods has grown exponentially since the 1990s with more people becoming concerned about designer crops. Organic foods impact the soil less and some people even think they can taste the difference.
Where to Find Organic Foods
Not only do farmers’ markets sell the freshest produce directly from local farmers, but they also have food items that are not easily available in the grocery store or supermarket. From the fresh fish catch of the day to vegetables picked from the garden in the morning, there’s no shortage of a massive variety of fresh options.
When looking for unique items like artisanal honey or gourmet cheese or exotic items like pomegranate vinegar, it’s more likely you’ll find such foods at the farmer’s market than at the supermarket. Farmers from big farms are required to have certification if they market their produce as organic, but smaller farms do not. If you are trying to buy organic foods, ask your local food sellers to show the paperwork if you really aren’t sure. Another benefit of shopping at the farmers’ market is that you can find out more specifics about how these farmers operate – whether or not they use fertilizers, which ones they use, how they plant, and more.
If you’re shopping at the grocery store, the Price Look Up (PLU) label on produce has a numerical code. If it has five digits beginning with 9, it is organic. If it has four digits, it is not. Non-food items are not regulated, so be wary of ‘organic’ claims. These are screened by third-parties that set their own standards.
Developers have jumped onto the bandwagon that promotes eating organic foods by creating exceptional apps that lead you to farmers growing your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Apps like Farmstand connects shoppers with local markets that have fresh farm produce while Seafood Watch enables shoppers to identify sustainable seafood options when shopping at the fresh fish market. You can also use resources like HueApproved to find out more information about your favorite products’ general health benefits and nutrition levels.
Even small backyards can be turned into small vegetable gardens where one can grow their herbs and vegetables. Those living in urban areas can grow some food items on the window sill or the porch.
What are the requirements to be organic?
For produce to be considered organic, it has to fit the following production criteria.
- It’s produced naturally without interference using methods like ionizing radiation, sewage sludge or genetic engineering.
- It doesn’t feature any prohibited synthetic and non synthetic substances like ash from burning manure, arsenic, lead salts and tobacco dust among others.
- It has been monitored by an authorized and certified agent from the USDA National Organic Program when growing. The whole process should follow the USDA organic regulations.
- It has been certified as organic by the USDA and has the USDA organic seal.
- As a general rule, it has over 70% organic ingredients.
These standards are important to be familiar with because Certified Organic products do not have to be completely organic. Some food products will be labeled 100% organic if they exceed the 70% organic rule. Also, keep in mind that not all organic foods are pesticide-free. There are ‘low-risk’ sprays and pesticides that organic farmers can use, plus pesticide runoff from nearby farms can also occur.
Labeling organic foods
If one has grown their food organically, but it isn’t certified, they can’t give it a general label of being organic. However, the farmer can put the organic ingredients on the label and identify them as such.
This means the food will have a USDA organic label as opposed to the USDA organic seal.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the body which oversees the production and labeling of organic, has a product composition section in its regulations. This section dictates the words that can be used on the principal display panel and information panel.
The principal display panel is the section on the package that is most visible to the shopper. The words used here will be reviewed and approved by the certifying agent from USDA.
The information panel features all the ingredients used in the product with percentages ranging from the highest to lowest.
Certified labels to look for in organic foods
Certified Naturally Grown
This label means the produce is naturally grown using natural standards but not on a USDA certified farm. The label comes from the non-profit organization Certified Naturally Grown which is a cheaper alternative program for farmers who can’t participate in USDA’s program.
The produce is certified by inspector farmers who also happen to be certified organic farmers.
This label is found on USDA certified organic foods. These are foods that have 95% organic ingredients and also feature no antibiotics, growth hormones, biotechnology, synthetic ingredients and pesticides.
Animal Welfare Approved
AWA, the Animal Welfare Approved label is used on animal produce raised in accordance with the Animal Welfare Institute standards. Participating farmers raise their cattle, sheep, goats and poultry using the free range system and pasture feeding. The label shows that the animals live naturally when alive and are raised on family farms.
USDA offers this label for ruminant animals that have been pasture-fed. Together with the America Grassfed Association, this animal produce is certified to be free of antibiotics, synthetic ingredients like growth hormones, and undue confinement.
American Humane Certified
With the American Humane Certified label, shoppers are assured that the animal produce they are buying comes from animals that were raised humanely. This means that the livestock lived in a clean, safe environment and was well fed and cared for by staff and professionals who understood the humane treatment of animals.
Eating organic is healthy
Despite the debate, consider that organic food has naturally grown from the ground in a very specific environment that conserves the ecological balance of the soil. The resulting crops offer nature at its best without any man-made interference. To keep staying educated about your diet, meet our HueDietitian to help you work on your health goals.
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