Understanding Organic Foods
Organic, natural, local, whole - everyday it seems like there are more ways to group and define foods. With all these categories - and their respective advocates - it can be tough to keep track of it all. But does it matter? A quick look at the most common terms, what they mean and how they're applied can help you understand what to know when you head to the grocery store, farmer's market or butcher.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the market for organic foods and defines what does and doesn't qualify. Under its criteria, organic food items must contain 95 percent of ingredients that are grown and handled using only natural fertilizers and pesticides.
On the other hand, natural foods, are not regulated by the government at all and, therefore, it is difficult to infer anything about the product. The only exception is meat and poultry, which cannot contain artificial preservatives, sweeteners or colors.
The question, then, remains: are organic foods healthier? When comparing organic and traditional foods, there are so many factors to consider that it becomes difficult to draw unambiguous conclusions. People who eat more organic foods show lower levels of certain pesticides and other toxins which may lead to illnesses or disorders, according to the Huffington Post. However, these studies are extremely limited and haven't yet produced enough data to satisfy many scientists.
In general, most experts believe that organic and natural labels can assist purchasing decisions but should be supplemented by a close reading of labels and ingredient lists. By checking the nutrition information and components of a food, you are more likely to make sound nutritional decisions than by basing them on organic claims alone.