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There seems to always be a hot topic in health and wellness. Lately, the hot topic has been about the benefit of organic foods. Are they worth the increased cost? Are they any better than regular food? Well, I hope to answer your questions today.

The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don’t use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weed killers, organic farmers may conduct more sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.

Here are some key differences between conventional farming and organic farming:

Conventional

Organic

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use herbicides to manage weeds. Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Any product labeled as organic must be USDA certified. Only producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification; however, they’re still required to follow the USDA’s standards for organic foods.

If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it.

Is Organic Produce More Nutritious?

Studies keep flip-flopping on this: One found more vitamin C in organic tomatoes than in conventional ones; another found more cancer-fighting flavonoids in organic corn and strawberries. But other studies haven’t found organics to have a nutritional edge. What makes the biggest difference in nutrients is how long produce sits on the shelf. Spinach, for instance, loses about half of its folate within a week.

According to Mayoclinic.com: “Probably not, but the answer isn’t yet clear. A recent study examined the past 50 years’ worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods. The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are comparable in their nutrient content.”

So, Why Buy Organic?

  • Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. According to the USDA, organic produce carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don’t exceed government safety thresholds.
  • Food additives. Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
  • Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.

If I Buy Organic, What Should I Buy?

If you choose to buy organic, I recommend buying organic fruit and vegetables that you will eat entirely, including the peel; like: apples, grapes, strawberries, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli. Look for meats and milk that are organic or raised without hormones.

Cost is always a factor. What is most important is you feed your family a variety of fruits and vegetables. So, whether you go totally organic or opt to mix conventional and organic foods, be sure to keep these tips in mind:

  • Select a variety of foods from a variety of sources. This will give you a better mix of nutrients and reduce your likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season when possible. To get the freshest produce, ask your grocer what day new produce arrives. Or check your local farmers market.
  • Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it’s organic or contains organic ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
  • Wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Washing helps remove dirt, bacteria and traces of chemicals from the surface of fruits and vegetables. Not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing, though. You can also peel fruits and vegetables, but peeling can mean losing some fiber and nutrients.

What are your reasons for going “organic”? Or have you chosen not to buy organically – I want to hear your thoughts.

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