It may seem that “eating organic” has become a trend these days, but is it really all that different than eating conventional produce? To answer simply: yes. However, if you come in to visit me and ask: “do I need to eat organic?” my answers may vary. Let’s dive in!
Before we talk about the “why”, let’s talk about what organic food is and what it means.
What does “organic” mean?
It’s basically a type of farming practice that doesn’t use pesticides, chemical fertilizers or artificial agents. To make it simple: organic is the form our food should naturally be in. In reality, eating organic isn’t trendy at all and should really be the norm for all of our food.
Why does organic food matter?
There are two main reasons why I encourage people to purchase organic when possible, and they usually revolve around two things: your health and the health of our planet.
When we choose to eat conventional foods, especially those listed with the “Dirty Dozen”, we expose ourselves to the numerous pesticides and chemicals that are sprayed on our crops regularly. These end up in our bodies, increasing our own toxicity, and can lead to various illnesses down the road.
Organic foods are also, by nature, more nutrient dense than those on conventional farms. Particularly, they are higher in antioxidants. Likely, this is due to the fact that they do not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. It is also important to note that purchasing organic foods that are also local, will increase their nutrient density as they haven’t had to travel as far.
Usually, organic foods are also non-GMO, meaning they have not been genetically modified in any way. I do say “usually” because, through wind, pollinations, etc. organic goods may have come in contact with GMO products.
When purchasing organic products, especially types of meat, dairy and eggs, you may see different labels. It’s important to distinguish the differences between these, as it always can mean something different!
Here are some of the different labels you may see:
Free-range: this applies to meat, eggs and dairy farming, and refers to when animals have access to the outdoors for at least part of the day.
Grass-fed: This is actually a little tricky. For the most part, “grass-fed” means cattle have been able to roam and graze on grass for a part of their lives. However, some meat that is labeled “grass-fed” may have also been given supplemental grain or finished on a grain diet to increase weight.
Grass-finished: if budget allows, try purchasing meat that is labelled “grass-finished” as it is guaranteed that the cattle have been grazing on grass alone their entire lives. This type of meat is also usually more nutrient dense and completely free of antibiotics. However, some grass-finished meats will be labelled “grass-fed” only – so be sure to check with your butcher or meat supplier!
Grain-fed: This means that the cattle or chicken have been fed a diet of corn and soy. This can help increase weight of the animal.
Organic: Organic does not always mean pasture-raised or grass-finished. Generally, it means that the animal was not fed a diet that included antibiotics or unnatural feed.
Bio-dynamic farming: Similar to organic, bio-dynamic agriculture does not use pesticides or chemicals. However, it differs in the fact that the farm itself is structured to promote soil health and longevity, rather than deplete the soil, which tends to be the case with a lot of conventional farming today. This means that the produce and livestock are extremely nutrient dense on a biodynamic farm.
I know purchasing Organic can seem overwhelming, so here are a few quick tips:
1. Stick with the produce you know.
When you first start purchasing organic, buy what you know you’ll use. This will ensure that you’re spending your money in the right places! Know that you make green smoothies daily? Purchase organic spinach first. Then try adding on other items.
2. Don’t force yourself to shop at numerous stores.
Yes, I would love if everyone could spend time exploring their local farmer’s market, butcher, and supermarket, but I also realize that is very time consuming! Try places that are a one-stop-shop for all of your grocery needs: Whole Foods, Superstore, and Costco carry a wide variety of organic produce.
3. Shop organic at least for the dirty dozen.
I get it, buying organic comes with a different price tag. If you are limited with the number or organic products you can buy, stick to the dirty dozen list, including:
- Spinach and kale
- Nectarines and peaches
- Apples and pears
These fruits and vegetables are labelled as the most polluted from chemicals and pesticides.
4. Skip the organic “junk food”.
Just because it says organic, doesn’t mean it’s good for you! Purchase whole, organic foods first, and try making your own “junk” at home, like organic popcorn, kale chips, or energy balls!