For years, we’ve heard so many things about organic foods from so many different sources. The media says they’re amazing, practically miracle foods. Growers line up on both sides of the organic-foods debate, and tiny mom-and-pop stores, as well as big grocery chains, are all loaded with all kinds of organic foods from popcorn to milk to fruit snacks. But what’s real, and what’s just hype? Here are ten facts you need to know about organic foods…
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In order for a food item to be labeled “organic” by the USDA, it must follow strict planting, growing, and harvesting guidelines, including how long (and which kinds of) natural manure fertilizer may sit on the fallow land before crops are planted. There are no such regulations on non-organic foods, so the chances of those fruits and vegetables being contaminated with E. Coli are greatly increased.
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Though the chances of organic foods being infected with E. Coli are very slim, all food items need to be thoroughly washed before they’re eaten or used in cooking. Cold water is best, since it won’t wilt your leafy vegetables, and since warm or hot water offers no other rinsing benefits.
There are some non-organic foods that are so saturated with pesticides and other harmful agents that they’ve been labeled the “dirty dozen.” If you’re thinking of purchasing organic foods, these are the foods to start with, since the non-organic versions are so heavily contaminated. They include: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.
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There are different USDA terms and labels for different types of organic food designations, but if a food item doesn’t carry the USDA label, it’s not actually organic. It’s confusing though, since some foods are labeled “hormone-free” or “natural,” but don’t be taken in… it’s not the same as “organic.” The USDA organic seal means that the food item has met the standard for being grown, harvested, and processed with restrictions on hormones, antibiotics, and fertilizers. That may not sound like a big deal to you, until you learn that some fertilizers used on non-organic crops include sewage sludge, or are bio-engineered, genetically modified, or are radiated to kill bacteria and germs. Nasty!
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Did you know some foods are quite safe, even if they’re not certified organic? A good rule of thumb to remember is that if the food has a peel that you do not eat, it’s likely to be almost as safe as its organic counterpart. Such foods include asparagus avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, corn, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papayas, pineapple, and sweet peas. I’m not really sure why the asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and peas are safe, even though they don’t have a peel, but they are.
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To date, the USDA has not set regulations on how to label seafood. It’s safe to assume that most seafood we consume has some level of mercury contamination, so it’s best not to eat it more than three times per week. If you’re hooked on seafood and can’t wait for the USDA to start labeling seafood as organic, then try these, since they’re less likely to be contaminated with mercury — crab, sardines, shrimp, tilapia, oysters, salmon, and freshwater trout. Avoid shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel, as these are very contaminated.
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In order for any meat or dairy item to be labeled “organic” by the USDA, the animal from which it came from must never have received antibiotics or growth hormones. This would include all meat and dairy items, such as eggs, poultry, cheese, sour cream, and milk. Scientists continue to debate whether the hormones in non-organic milk are harmful, but as they continue to argue, I play it safe and buy organic milk.
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You may have noticed there are different USDA “organic” designations. Here’s what they mean. “100% organic” means just that, so it can use the USDA “organic” seal. “95% organic” means that the food item is made of a minimum of 95% organic ingredients, so it can also use the USDA “organic” seal. You may also have noticed a label that says “made with organic ingredients.” While these foods can’t use the USDA “organic” seal, they do still contain at least 70% organic foods.
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If you’re worried about the cost of organic foods, but still want to reap the benefits, then try growing your own organic garden! Many fruits and veggies do quite well and are easy to plant, grow, and maintain. Try planting tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas, or whatever else suits your fancy. Be sure to stick to your organic guns, and don’t use any store-bought fertilizer without making sure it’s totally organic. Or make your own, using old coffee ground, eggs shells, and other safe kitchen waste… compost!
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The organic foods section in my favorite grocery store used to consist of one tiny aisle in the back of the store. Now it’s huge, with row after row of yummy foods I can’t seem to buy enough of. I’ve noticed too that my grocery chain has their own label for most organic foods, such as beans, juice, bread, chips, and more. Granted, they’re still a little more expensive (one can of pinto beans is about fifteen cents more than its non-organic counterpart), but I feel it’s worth the extra cost.
I hope I’ve been able to clear things up for you a little bit, and that you’ll be encouraged to try something organic and new the next time you’re at the grocery store. Or maybe you’ll even grow your own organic food! What organic items do you love to buy? What do you avoid? Please let me know!
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