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Organic Food: What It Is, and What It Isn't

By: Jody Smith

If you are concerned about pesticide residues and other chemicals in your food and what they might be doing in your body, organic food is your alternative. Organic foods are grown without the use of most pesticides, and without synthetic ingredients, ionizing radiation, or bioengineered fertilizers.

Meat, poultry, and dairy products that are organic are derived only from animals who are free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Organic food is produced on farms and comes from processing plants that have been assessed by certified government agencies to satisfy USDA organic standards.

Labels that use the word "organic" can be confusing for the consumer. A label of "100 percent organic" is used for foods whose ingredients are entirely organically grown.

A label of "organic" indicates that 95 percent of the ingredients are organic, and that sulfites have not been used as a preservative. But the other 5 percent of ingredients need not be organic to qualify for this label.

The label "Made with organic ingredients" only has to have 70 percent organic content, although sulfites are not acceptable. Anything that is less than 70 percent organic may use the word "organic" about individual ingredients that meet the criteria.

Dr. Andrew Weil collaborated with the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) to bring attention to their Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

The guide presented a list of foods that are considered to be most contaminated by pesticides. This list included fruit such as apples, blueberries, grapes, peaches and strawberries. It also included vegetables like celery, kale, potatoes, spinach, and sweet bell peppers.

According to the Environmental Working Group, an increasing number of researchers caution that even small amounts of chemicals like pesticides can be harmful to our health. Extra caution is advised concerning children and the unborn.

The EWG has also compiled a list of foods deemed to have the least pesticide contaminants and therefore are considered to be healthier for consumption. The list includes fruit such as grapefruit, mangoes, pineapples, watermelon, and cantaloupe grown locally. Vegetables would include asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, onions and sweet peas.

An article on About.com said that some organic foods contain more vitamins and better quality protein. Animals who eat organic feed are healthier than other animals and the ecology benefits more from organic farming than from conventional farming.

Organic food tends to be more costly, both to produce and for the consumer to buy. Those who wish to avoid chemicals in their food, however, find the extra expense a small price to pay for food they feel they can trust.


Jody Smith is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.


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