What is Organic Food?

Understanding Organic Food and Why you Should Buy It

Creating a healthy, balanced diet is definitely key to a healthy lifestyle but what if the whole foods you’re feeding to your body aren’t as healthy as you might think? Organic foods have extreme health benefits and are good for the environment too. In this article we'll highlight the key aspects of what is organic food, what the benefits of organic is and how you should go about buying it. 

 

What is organic food?

Depending on the certifying body, organic foods will come with slightly different definitions, but generally speaking an organic food will be one that is produced without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and generally will be free of synthetic hormones (in the case of animal feed and animal meat). To receive an organic seal of approval, a product is often required to have no less than 95% organic ingredients.

 

What are the benefits of organic food?

If you’ve ever chewed away on a piece of organically-grown, vine ripe tomato, you know the bliss of such an experience. You can almost taste the sun! But the benefits of organically produced foods goes well beyond flavor and includes a whole host of issues, making the choice to switch to organic foods almost a no brainer. Here are just a few of the benefits of organic food:

  • Health benefits: According to a 2001 Center for Disease Control study, toxins (including agricultural chemical residues) are building up in our bodies which cause many diseases including cancer.[1] Eating organically can reduce our chances of contracting diseases like endocrine, coronary, and other system problems.[2] And fruits and vegetables grown organically can have up to 40% higher levels of antioxidants (important for fighting off cancer and heart disease) as well as vitamins and minerals like zinc.[3]
  • Similar or better yields: Though proponents of the green revolution would argue that conventionally-grown crops that rely on agrochemicals yield more per acre than organic crop, many studies have proven this assumption wrong.[4] And these better yields make it more economical for poor, small-scale farmers to grow crops organically since they require less land and labor for a larger yield.[5]
  • Societal benefits: In many cases, organic farmers are encouraged to respect the rights of their workers, making it socially beneficial to farm organically. Not only is it often safer for these farmers (they do not have to work with poisonous chemicals), but they are paid a fair price for their products, too.
  • Combating climate change: True, many organic foods travel longer distances in order to go from farm to table, but recent studies have shown that the methods used to grow organic crops (adding cover crops, using manures instead of fertilizers, cutting down on petrochemical-based agricultural chemicals, and so on) reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide. [6]
  • Environmental benefits: Of course, beyond global warming, there are numerous environmental benefits to farming organically, including improved soil health, protection of forests, prevention of water and air pollution, protection for wild animals and birds and bees (which we absolutely require for food production), and preservation of the world’s biodiversity, to name just a few.

One of the challenges of buying organic foods for you and your family will likely remain the cost. Although the organic industry is growing with every single year (and the number of farms are increasing to meet the demand), the tides have not yet turned in favor of organic farming such that by and large, it is still more expensive to purchase these foods than conventional ones. That said, we still think it’s a great investment - not only in the future of the planet and the lives of the farmers working to make our food, but also in our own personal health and wellbeing.

 

Tips for buying organic food

But lest you think we’d just leave you hangin’, we’ve got some handy tips for how to buy organic foods. Tips on how to spot organics, how to read product labels, which organic foods to invest in and which are a waste of money - so that you can put your hard-earned organic foods cash where it really counts.

Let’s start with how to recognize organics when you see them.

  1. Look for organic certification logos such as those managed by the Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association (DBTA), Organic Food and Farming Certification, Quality Assurance International (QAI), or the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).
  2. Spy the organic codes on producewhich will always be five digits starting with a “9”. Conventionally-grown produce will have a four digit code, and those items containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will have a five digit code starting with an “8”.
  3. Shop at your local farmers market from organic farmers you trust. Ask specific questions about a farmer’s methods, and as you become familiar with the vendors, you’ll get to know who has high standards for organic agricultural methods and who does not. 
  4. Buy from a CSA (community supported agriculture). These organizations (which often produce only organic foods) allow you to buy a share in what a local farm produces in exchange for yearly fees and/or your sweat equity.
  5. Grow your own fruits and veggies using organic gardening methods! Then you can be sure you’re getting hyper local and organic produce!

Also check out ecolife's Top Foods to Buy Organically to better understand the foods you should always try to buy organically. 






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References

1 Organic Gardening Offers Many Health Benefits and Helps Plants and Animals. (2009, February 11). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Organic Consumers Association: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_16830.cfm

2 Organic food and farming: Myth and reality. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Soil Association Organic Standard: http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=30Bk3Sg6Pp0%3D&tabid=385

3 Organic Foods Have More Antioxidants, Minerals. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from WEIL, Andrew Weil, M.D.: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/WBL02077/Organic-Foods-Have-More-Antioxidants-Minerals.html

4 Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials: I. Productivity 1990–2002. (2008). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Agronomy Journal: http://agron.scijournals.org/cgi/content/full/100/2/253

5 Poorer Farmers Benefit Most from Organic Practices. (2002, February 14). Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Organic Consumers Association: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/benefits022502.cfm

6 Organic farming combats global warming -- big time. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2010, from Rodale Institute: http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/ob_31

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