Organic Decoded

April 28, 2011

Look’s like organic has really hit mainstream; find out what it really means to be organic and what organic foods you should skip

Some people think organic food just tastes better and, if you can afford to- as it usually cost more than conventional, it makes sense to give your body the most delicious and best possible food available. But don’t stress if you can’t always shop for key organic items– a varied, nutritionally balanced diet with proper food safety handling, whether organic or not, is the most important thing for overall health and well-being.

SupermarketGuru wants to keep you shopping smart so read on to find out what items you should choose organic, and which you should skip.

According to the Environmental Working Group, choosing organics is “always the best choice” -- but not everyone agrees, nor can everyone afford the organic prices. There are twelve key produce items, nicknamed the “dirty dozen”, that when available should always be purchased organic: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes, pears, spinach and potatoes.

Produce that has a thin skin or no protective layer is usually best purchased organic- this is key to keep in mind if you are shopping and you forget the “dirty dozen.” The EWG also points out fifteen items that you don't necessarily have to purchase organic, the “clean 15”: onion, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potato and honeydew melon.

For non produce items, the regulations allow four different labeling options based on the percentage of organic ingredients contained in a product: “100 percent organic” (self explanatory!). “Organic”: contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients by weight, excluding water and salt. “Made with organic”: contains between 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients. Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients list the organic items in the ingredient panel. The green and white USDA seal may be used on products that are “100 percent organic” or “organic,” but is entirely voluntary. The balance of ingredients used must be cleared by the USDA and listed on the National List.

What does it actually mean to be organic?

USDA Organic standards require that the land used to grow organic crops go through a three year “transition period” to make sure the crops are free of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
All organic agriculture prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation, sewage sludge, and no genetically modified organisms can be contained in anything labeled organic - however, keep in mind that there are over 100 pesticides that can be used in organic farming.

As far as food safety is concerned there is no difference between organic and conventionally produced foods – so always remember to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and employ safe handling and storage for meat, poultry, dairy and fish.

And don’t panic – if you are concerned about pesticide residues for yourself or your children and you’re unable to buy organic, you can remove a significant amount of the residues by simple peeling fruits and vegetables and removing the outer leaves (but do be aware you will be losing fiber and some nutrients), and trimming any fat from meat and poultry as the residues tend to be more concentrated in the fat, as well as avoiding fish from contaminated areas.