Nutrition Articles

All About Organic Foods

Just a few years ago, finding organic foods wasn't easy. Now, they're lining supermarket shelves and are common staples on many shopping lists. Learn more about organic foods below.

What does "organic" mean?

"Organic" refers to the way foods are grown, handled and processed. Organic farming methods emphasize water and soil conservation and use of renewable resources. Conventional pesticides and fertilizers are not used to grow produce and grains. Instead, farmers manage weeds and pests by using methods such as crop rotation and even beneficial insects and birds. Organic meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs come from animals that do not receive antibiotics or growth hormones.

It's important to note that organic products may not be "pesticide free" because organic farmers are allowed to use certain natural pesticides, and a small amount of organic food may contain very low levels of conventional pesticides, usually from drift or water contamination.

Before a product can be labeled "organic," a farm must be certified to make sure it meets strict regulations. Companies that handle or process organic foods such as cereals or breads must also be certified.

How do I find organic foods?

Check package labels and signs in the supermarket. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed strict labeling rules to help consumers identify the organic content of foods. According to USDA labeling rules:

100% organic means the product contains 100% organically–produced ingredients.

Organic means the product contains at least 95% organically–produced ingredients.

Made with organic ingredients means the product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the ingredients may only be identified as organic in the ingredient statement.

Foods that contain at least 95% organic ingredients may voluntarily display the USDA Organic Seal. Foods that contain fewer organic ingredients cannot display the seal.

Organic Logo

Is it better to buy organic foods?

Consider this information when choosing between organic and conventionally–grown foods:

Pesticides: Organic fruits and vegetables typically contain fewer pesticide residues, but the amount in conventionally–grown produce is minimal and not considered a health risk.

Whether you go organic or conventional, the same food safety rules apply: Wash all produce thoroughly with running water to remove dirt and bacteria and gently scrub outer edible skins on fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears and potatoes. If you're concerned about pesticides, peel fruits and vegetables and remove outer leaves of leafy greens, in addition to washing them (keep in mind, peeling reduces the nutrients and fiber in foods).

Nutrition: A few studies show that organic produce contains more of certain vitamins and minerals. However, research is not conclusive that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally–grown food.

Environmental impact: Organic farming methods are designed to help the environment by conserving water and soil and reducing pollution.

Cost: Organic foods usually cost more than their conventional counterparts. Lower crop yields, higher labor costs to keep weeds and pests at bay, and tighter regulations contribute to their higher price tag.

Appearance and quality: Generally, organic and conventional foods are similar in appearance and quality. However, fresh organic produce sometimes looks less than perfect–perhaps a bit misshapen, smaller in size, or not as bright in color as conventional produce. Organic produce may spoil faster, too, because it isn't waxed and doesn't contain preservatives.