Organic in Plain English

Reading food labels can be exhausting. Confusing terms and claims on packages make it hard to know what you’re really buying and what products are truly healthiest for your family.

“Organic” can be one of those confusing terms. Here are some of the basics, so you know exactly what you’re getting when you choose organic food.

What does the term “organic” really mean?

“Organic” is a term defined and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In order for a food or product to be organic, it has to be made within very specific farming and production practices that preserve the health of people, animals, and the environment. Organic products are made without the use of toxic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics, and artificial growth hormones.

What does that mean for me and my family?

When you buy organic food, you’re buying food produced with your family’s health and safety in mind. You can be sure that organic farmers are striving to produce food in the most natural way possible, without adding toxins to our environment or our bodies.

Is organic food healthier?

Organic food is better for you because it has been made without the use of:

  • Toxic, persistent pesticides that have been shown to harm human health and the environment
  • Antibiotics (often given to animals so they can survive inhumane living conditions)
  • Artificial growth hormones (often given to animals so they grow faster and larger than in their natural habitats)
  • Genetically modified organisms (often inserted into the DNA of crops so they can tolerate more pesticides or survive unnatural environmental conditions)

Why should pesticides be avoided?

Recent studies show that toxic, persistent pesticides may contribute to an increased risk of some cancers, behavioral problems like ADHD, slowed brain development in children, lower I.Q. scores, and more. Luckily, studies have also revealed that when children who have been eating conventional food switch over to an organic diet, the amount of pesticides found in their bodies very quickly diminishes.

So no matter what you’ve been doing up until now, adopting an organic diet can have an immediate and substantial impact on your and your children’s health.

Is all organic food created equal?

Just like with conventional food, some organic food is grown on small farms and some on large farms. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, because they’re all required to follow the same specifications set by the USDA. All “certified organic” farms, processors, and retailers are inspected and regulated so as to maintain the integrity of organic food and products.

But wait, I’ve heard that organic food…

There are lots of false assumptions and myths about organic foods, and since we usually don’t know exactly how our food was grown or produced, it can be tempting to believe what we hear. But this is the bottom line: No food system is perfect or immune to external influences, but when you buy organic, you can feel confident that your purchase is helping to optimize the health of soil, plants, animals, and people.

What foods are most important to buy organic?

If you’re just beginning to move toward an organic lifestyle, you might find it easiest to start buying the organic version of just one food or food group. For example, you may start buying organic produce based on the Dirty Dozen list (the Environmental Working Group’s list of most contaminated produce), or aim to buy all organic dairy, meat, or eggs. After you’ve successfully changed one part of your shopping list to organic food, you can begin with another food group.

On a tight food budget? Here are some tips for raising an organic family without breaking the bank.