Is organic always healthier?

By BROOKE KELLEHER
FoodCorps Service member

It’s no secret that the food industry has boomed in the past 50 years. Now more than ever, deciding what to eat is complicated. It can be difficult to understand which “healthy” alternatives are truly going to benefit us. Labels such as “fat free,” “sugar free,” and “all natural” are used to draw in consumers. However, in a world where the much of the food industry prefers to make a profit rather than quality food, it is important for us consumers to understand these labels. One particular label used to catch consumers’ attention is “organic.”

Organic foods are grown and processed under strict organic farming methods. After the agricultural revolution, traditional farming was replaced with industrialized farming. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) became the norm, and traditionally farmed foods garnered the label of organic. Doubts regarding industrialized farming began as early as the 1940s, when individuals accused the industry of negatively impacting the environment and human health. Initially, the food industry denied this. However, more recently, the industry has taken advantage of this suspicion and begun to industrialize organic foods.

In order for produce to be certified organic, farmers must abide by many standards. Many of these farming practices are for environmental reasons, such as maintaining soil health and biodiversity. However, organic foods have entered the limelight more often for their perceived role in optimizing health. Certified organic foods do not contain any artificial food additives, synthetic pesticides, or genetic modifications. In recent years, the idea that organic foods are both safer and more nutritious has skyrocketed on social media. Most of these decisions are being based on trendiness rather than hard science. Despite this, the food industry has chosen to move forward with the movement and include organic items in superstores around the nation. The catch: These items can really put a dent in your wallet!

While the organic food movement began with the intention to stand up to the food industry, it has now been taken over by the food industry. The industry has exploited people’s fears about pesticides in nonorganic foods to make a profit. While organic produce and organic meats lack the pesticides and modifications their no-organic counterparts can carry, the organic label should not make us automatically think healthy. Rather, we need to stay skeptical of all labels used by the food industry.

Consumers also should remember that, unfortunately, the organic sector has expanded due to public demand — and therefore corporate income — rather than consumers’ health and well-being. While organic foods should be consumed when feasible, it is more beneficial to focus on consuming a wide variety of plant-based foods if the ultimate goal is well-being. Instead of searching for certified organic labels, we are better off to buy items from small farms or farmers markets.

This will also help avoid the trap of buying highly processed foods. Many of the foods that are advertised as organic are made from organic ingredients but have been highly processed to become the items they are being sold as. The primary focus should be on eating a whole-food plant-based diet, and secondary should be making those items organic when possible.

In summary, don’t let recent trends convince you that the only way to a healthy diet is consuming all organic foods. Stick to fruits and vegetables, organic or not. When in doubt, revert to the yearly “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists to see which fruits and vegetables are worth spending the extra moola on the organic label.

 
These items are grown with high pesticide use. Buy organic if you can. ( Pixabay.com photo )

These items are grown with high pesticide use. Buy organic if you can. (Pixabay.com photo)

The Dirty Dozen

Pixabay.com photo

Pixabay.com photo

 

Strawberries
Spinach
Nectarines
Apples
Grapes
Peaches
Cherries
Pears
Tomatoes
Celery
Potatoes
Bell peppers

 

These crops are grown with low pesticide use. Save a buck and buy conventional. ( Pixabay.com photo )

These crops are grown with low pesticide use. Save a buck and buy conventional. (Pixabay.com photo)

The Clean Fifteen

Pixabay.com photo

Pixabay.com photo

 

Avocados
Corn
Pineapples
Cabbage
Onions
Peas
Papayas
Asparagus
Mangoes
Eggplant
Honeydew melon
Kiwis
Cantaloupe
Cauliflower
Broccoli