Originally found only at local farmers markets and health food stores, organic foods have found a permanent spot on the shelves of most grocery stores. Are you thinking about incorporating organic foods into your daily life, but are not sure how to or why you should? An educated consumer is a healthy consumer so here is my Cliff’s Notes version on organic eating.
or·gan·ic adjective /ôrˈganik/
Of, relating to, or derived from living matter - organic soils
Of, relating to, or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin
(of food or farming methods) Produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents
Of or relating to a bodily organ or organs
(of a disease) Affecting the structure of an organ
Denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole
- the organic unity of the integral work of art
Characterized by continuous or natural development – companies expand as much by acquisition as by organic growth
The explanation of organic food begins on the farm. From the definition above organic food or farming methods are those produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.
Organic farmers use natural fertilizers and pest control methods, crop rotation and mulching to handle weeds and do not give animals antibiotics, growth hormones or medications. To legally label a food “USDA Organic,” farmers have to adhere to strict government standards. The USDA Organic seal can only be used on products that are 95 percent organic or higher. That being said, many small, local farmers use organic and sustainable practices but have not reached organic certification so it’s important to get to know them and ask questions.
Buy local and seasonal foods when possible to reduce your carbon footprint, support local farmers, save money and maximize nutrition, taste and freshness. I belong to an organic CSA farm (community supported agriculture) and love it! These are farms where you “buy in” to the harvest. This is a win-win situation for both you and the farmer. The farmer gets their money up front early in the season and you are guaranteed the freshest, most delicious and nutrient rich produce all season long. Juan and Sue at my local CSA (Merrick Farm in Farmingdale, N.J.) have become family friends and we look forward to the weekly ride to the farm, watching the kids pick veggies, playing with the dogs, chasing the chickens and getting muddy.
Organic eating is not just about chomping on a pesticide-and-chemical-free apple, there are also many long-term benefits for the environment.
“Current research is also showing both short-and long-term benefits to our population and the planet with organic and other sustainable production systems, including reduced nutrient pollution, improved soil organic matter, lower energy use, reduced pesticide residues in food and water and enhanced biodiversity,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website. “Biodiversity is enhanced in organic agricultural systems, which makes these farms more resilient to unpredictable weather patterns and pest outbreaks, as is predicted with climate change.”
Until even more people start buying organic foods more often, they are usually more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. If, like many of us, having an entire organic kitchen is out of your price range, prioritize! Consider cutting back on junk and processed foods and spend that dough on some of the following organic foods:
- Imported nectarines
- Imported grapes
- Sweet bell peppers
- Domestic blueberries
- Kale/collard greens
Also, keep in mind that organic does not automatically mean healthy. You can pick up organic sugar, soda and candy but it’s still sugar, soda and candy! If you are choosing organic to manage and prevent health problems, improving the quality of your diet should be the first priority. Get rid of processed foods, get back to nature and make the basis of your diet lean meat-poultry-fish, low-fat dairy, veggies, fruits, beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Henderiks is a registered dietitian and the founder of Dianehenderiks.com.