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What Is Organic Produce?

While everyone has come to know the word “organic,” when it comes down to it, very few know exactly what it means. Somehow organic has pervaded the public consciousness to mean “healthier,” and that big green sticker justifies the price that is just a little higher than the traditionally grown food next to it. It is important to understand exactly what organic produce is and whether or not it is healthier for you to consume on a regular basis than non-organic / traditional produce options.

What Constitutes Organic?

To put it simply, organic produce can refer to meats, fruits, vegetables, or other crops grown without unnatural assistance. This means produce grown without (most) pesticides or artificial fertilizer, polluted soil or water, or genetic enhancers. For meat, the livestock must be raised outdoors and fed organic feed without antibiotics or growth hormones. To ensure these requirements are met, a government USDA official inspects the farm and—if it meets the criteria—certifies it as organic.

There are different levels of organic that farmers can label their food depending on the results of the inspection:

  • 100% Organic: Made with all organic ingredients
  • Organic: 95% or more of the ingredients are organic
  • Made with organic ingredients: At least 70% of the ingredients are organic and there were no genetic modifications to the food
  • <70%: These items can have the ingredients that are organic labeled on the side, but may not be classified as organic.

Why Isn’t Everyone Growing Organic?

When you think about it, organic food is taking us back to a “simpler” time. To grow organic, farmers are removing many of the scientific advancements in farming that have been instituted over the years to produce more crops year-round.

The truth is, those new processes were not necessarily created to make food better, but to make farming easier. Without hormones and antibiotics, it’s harder to keep livestock big and healthy; without pesticides it’s more difficult to protect crops; without preservatives, all the food has to be shipped and sold faster. Raising organic food is a costly and time-consuming process that will not necessarily yield a bigger payoff. For those that care about the long-term health benefits that unnaturally modified produce might have, organic seems to be worth the investment.

Why Choose to Select Food that Is Grown Organic?

One huge benefit is the use of fewer pesticides. It is important to be aware that all food, organic or not, must keep pesticide traces well below the USDA limit—and organic farmers do use pesticides. The difference is that organic farmers are restricted to an approved list of pesticides that use fewer chemicals and leave less residue—no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Though consuming traces of pesticides will cause immediate, obvious harm, it can do damage over time. Going organic significantly reduces the risk of pesticides affecting your body.

Organic farming is also better for the environment. Maintaining an organic farm requires a lot of care and attention, which results in better soil upkeep, reduced pollution, and sustainable farm land. Crops on organic farms usually have high yield and are more likely to grow in the same spot the next year. Additionally, the environmental impact is another reason why many people buy organic.

Is Organic Produce Better for Me?

The short answer is: We don’t know yet. As of now, there are no conclusive studies proving organic produce is more nutritious than that grown on conventional farms. There is the obvious benefit of less pollution and fewer pesticides, but that is more like avoiding a risk rather than giving your body a boost.

It is important to know that if you are buying organic food because you think it’s better for you, you are not wrong—but organic produce doesn’t necessarily provide numerous advantages not found in more traditional options. The best take away? Don’t use “organic” as your sole criteria for determining nutritional quality in your produce.

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.