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Organic: What Does it Mean?

In the world of food, there are many labels to choose from. They can be confusing, especially if you’re trying to eat healthily and make informed choices. Organic is one of those terms that can seem opaque, but it has very straightforward and strict guidelines regarding its use. In this article, we'll be taking a look at what makes something organic and the benefits of eating organic foods over non-organic foods, so that next time you're confronted with a purchasing choice at the market or supermarket, you'll be able to make an informed decision of what to put in your basket and, consequently, on your table.

what does organic mean

What Does Organic Mean?

Organic is a way of farming that focuses on building healthy soil. It’s been a standard since the 1940s when the USDA set the first standards for organic agriculture. The specific regulation changes around the world, but, generally, in order for food to be certified organic, it must be grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering or modification, or ionizing radiation. For the production of meat, eggs and dairy products, animals must be raised on pasture, not in confinement. In addition, organic farmers must adopt sustainable practices for soil health, water conservation, and wildlife. And that there’s accountability for food safety and transparency in the supply chain. But what's the difference with non-organic food? Non-organic products aren't necessarily unhealthy or bad for you; in fact, foods that aren't labeled as organic may also, in theory, be produced following the same standards as their "certified organic" counterparts, as it is not an obligation for those who produce in compliance with organic standards to label their products as such. The downside to non-organic? Non-organic foods may be grown using pesticides and other chemicals that aren’t derived from natural sources, and this, as we will see later on in the article, can have some repercussions on their nutritional qualities.

Organic Food Benefits

There are a few reasons why you might want to switch to a diet that is mostly organic. Organic fruits and vegetables are packaged with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are all essential for a healthy body. Because of the way they have been grown, they are also free from chemicals and pesticides that can have harmful effects on our bodies. Here is a list of the main benefits of consuming organic food:

  • Organic Food has More Nutrients: many studies have shown that consuming organic produce can increase your intake of certain minerals and vitamins that you would otherwise miss out on if you’re eating non-organic foods.

  • Organic Food is Better for the Environment: since organic farming practices build up the soil, it is more sustainable in the long run than non-organic farming.

  • Organic Food is Safer: organic foods have to be farmed without synthetic pesticides – so they’re safer to eat as there's no risk of introducing traces of harmful chemicals into our bodies.

  • Organic Food is Healthier: organic foods have more antioxidants, which have been proven to be important in the prevention of diseases like cancer.

Tips for Choosing Organic Foods

  • Look for the Label: You can trust that something is organic if it has the USDA seal on it. If you are in Europe or other countries around the world, there will be other seals to ensure that the consumer is buying an organically grown product.

  • Buy Seasonal Produce: if you're looking for organic food, it means you're trying to eat healthily and get the most out of what nature has to offer. There's no better way of doing that than combining the benefits of choosing an organic product with the benefits of choosing seasonal produce. For example, the best time to buy berries is in the spring when they’re in season; strawberries in February, although a very romantic and popular choice to celebrate Valentine's Day, are not seasonal produce.

  • Try Growing Your Own: it’s not easy, but it’s a really great way to get all-natural produce for cheap. Once you start reaping what you sow, the satisfaction will be so high there'll be no turning back to the grocery store!

  • Reduce Food Waste: organic products can be expensive, and there’s nothing wrong with buying non-organic produce. However, if you're looking to buy organic but can’t afford to switch your shopping to 100% organic products, make a prioritized list of the items you prefer to buy as organic. Also, see where you can cut costs; we waste a lot (a lot!) of food nowadays. A great way to cut spending is to buy less, but of higher quality (in this case, the higher quality could be the organic produce you're looking for), and only what and how much you actually need. This will be good for the environment and for your wallet - and, in turn, will give you some extra money to spend on organic products.

  • Purchase in Bulk: You can often find organic produce in bulk at a lower price. Team up with friends and family to buy organic products at a more affordable price.

  • Switch to vegetables and legumes, and consume less meat: organic whole grains, legumes, vegetables and dairy products are a great option if you’re on a budget. These items are usually less expensive than meat, and will still ensure you're eating high-quality food. If you've decided to prioritize organic foods on your shopping list but are on a tight budget, try to incorporate more legumes and vegetables on the menu instead of meat. To add some more proteins, you can always opt for organic eggs, leaving meat on the menu only once a week.

Is Organic Worth It?

As we’ve explored above, there are many benefits to choosing organic foods. Choosing to eat an organic diet can also have a positive impact on the environment by helping to reduce pollution from farming and by promoting biodiversity. An organic diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and other diseases. However, while the rise in popularity of organic food has led to an improvement in our diets, it has also led to a price increase in such foods and, unfortunately, some studies have shown that the price difference between organic and non-organic food is not justified by the benefits. Organic produce might have higher nutritional value, but non-organic foods are also likely to have plenty of nutrients. Overall, keep in mind that a balanced diet is more important than whether a particular food is organic or non-organic. That being said, as consumers, we can make informed choices in trying to shift our food intake from high meat consumption to a more legume-based diet, which is good for us, for our pockets and for the environment.

Bottom Line

We have learned that organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and are also raised on pasture, not in confinement. We have seen how an organic diet has been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and increase the intake of antioxidants. In recent times, this has led to organic diets becoming very popular, but buying organic foods might not be economically sustainable for everyone. If you wish to incorporate more organic produce into your diet, it's important to keep in mind that a balanced diet is more important than whether a particular food is organic or non-organic. To reduce spending, it's possible to buy less and reduce food waste, also switching to a diet with a lower intake of meat in exchange for more legumes and vegetables. Overall, if you are looking to eat healthier, choosing organic foods over non-organic foods can be a sensible decision.


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