When Does Organic Matter?
Buzzwords amplify the health food industry daily. We often see products labeled all-natural, grass-fed, and the cherry on top: certified organic.
But, what does it really mean for a food to be organic, and does it matter?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a food producer earns the right to label their products certified organic if they are produced:
- without excluded methods set forth by the USDA, including genetic engineering and ionizing radiation
- using USDA allowed substances in specified quantities and situations
- and overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent
Often regional farmers and food producers haven’t taken the steps to become certified organic, but are still using methods that coincide with a healthy lifestyle and your nutrition standards. Visit farmer’s markets, supermarkets, and health stores to learn more about how food is raised in your community.
Now, let’s get into the specifics. Here are some of the main food and supplement groups and whether their organic label is beneficial.
Fruits & Veggies
Since we often eat the outer skin of fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s worth noting which ones tend to absorb additives (organic or not) applied during the growing and selling process.
The following produce items are considered the “dirty dozen” because of their high pesticide content, according to the Environmental Working Group. Conventional varieties of these fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly. These are also good contenders for organic.
- Sweet Bell Peppers
If you haven’t ventured into trying organic produce, it might surprise you that the flavor is often richer and has a more pronounced sweetness. If you have a picky kid that says no to peas and carrots, try locally grown, organic produce at the next meal and see what he (and you!) think.
Bottom Line: Some fruits and veggies are better organic, some are not. Check the dirty dozen list and your tastebuds.
When it comes to animal-based products, the steps to create an organic product are a little more complex. The animal needs to maintain an organic diet and raising method. The resulting product must follow organic processing guidelines set forth by the USDA.
When it comes to eggs, the top choice is organic, free-range. This means the chickens were fed a diet of organic grain that was not raised from GMO seeds and the birds had the opportunity to be outdoors, where they gain exercise and exposure to the sun and fresh air. A quality diet and less stress equals higher nutrient values in the eggs.
Bottom line: With organic, free-range eggs you get optimal nutrition and can feel good about the treatment of the chickens.
Fresh meats, from steak to fish, are also available in both conventional and organic varieties. Animals raised for organic meat get access to the outdoors and are raised without antibiotics and growth hormones.
If you notice a label boasting grass-fed, that doesn’t mean the product is organic. Instead, the animal had access, even for a short period of time, to grass during its life.
But, is organic meat healthier to consume? Saturated fats tend to be about the same in conventional and organic meats. But it’s worth noting that organic meats:
- are slightly lower in monounsaturated fats
- are 47 percent higher in healthy Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that may help reduce inflammation and cognitive decline. Omega-3s may also help improve heart functioning.
Bottom Line: If your diet contains high amounts of meat, buy organic. If you occasionally consume meat products, conventional is a safe option.
Vitamins & Supplements
At times it can make sense to boost your nutrition with the help of vitamins and supplements. When these products are derived from natural herbs, plants, and oils, they’re more effective and nutrient dense than lab-grown vitamins and supplements.
But what about organic vitamins?
One of the benefits of vitamins made with organic ingredients is that they are easier to digest, and therefore easier to take. This may be especially true for:
- Wild-caught omega-3 fish oils
- Multi-vitamins made with organic vegetables and herbs
- Prenatal vitamins
- Organic Ginger
- Organic Turmeric
Bottom Line: If you easily get an upset stomach or feel queasy after taking a conventional vitamin, try an organic or natural brand.
So, When Does Organic Matter?
When it comes down to it, a well-balanced diet and nutrition plan is more important than whether your individual foods are organic. However, if you consume high amounts or have a sensitivity to a certain type of food, try the organic version and see for yourself!
New Chapter focuses on using probiotics and fermentation to convert 100 percent organic and Non-GMO botanicals into vegetarian nutritional supplements and vitamins. This processing method makes their products easier to digest.
Angela Tague is vegetarian, gluten-free, Iowa-based freelance writer working full-time in content and journalism. When she's not behind her keyboard, she's probably on a yoga mat or in the swimming pool. Follow her personal health journey on her blog, Cupcakes and Yoga Pants.