Organic is a word that gets thrown around a lot more often than it used to, especially as more people discover the many benefits of using and consuming organic products. While many are quick to look for and purchase organic products, some still can’t answer the question “what makes food organic?”
It’s not required to know the full ins and outs of the organic food and product industry, but it certainly helps to have a better understanding of the definition of organic, the guidelines and rules set in place, and how the process works in the first place.
The more you know about organic food, the more you know about the benefits, and the more motivation you have to continually incorporate it into your life.
The term “organic” has been overused as a sort of trendy buzzword for the last few years, so it’s best to know what the true definition is, so you can ensure you are actually getting an organic product.
The actual definition outlining what is considered organic is fairly simple. According to Organic.org, the legal definition of organic refers to “organic produce and other ingredients that are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
In the United States, a company, farm, or manufacturer can apply for an official USDA Organic certification by following a number of steps, and maintaining a commitment to following the guidelines that are set in place to maintain their official USDA Organic certification.
This allows these sellers to display or advertise their products as USDA certified, giving consumers a better confidence that they are indeed receiving a truly organic product.
The most obvious way to know is if the product is labeled organic. There are three different categories for an organic product, all dependent upon the amount of ingredients.
Any products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients can place a list of organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but can’t make any organic claims on the front of the product’s package.
So, in summary, there are different levels of organic, and all of these examples are indeed “organic,” but only one that is 100% guaranteed and certified.
Organic farming may seem like a complex system, but it’s actually the opposite. Organic production involves keeping things simple, while relying on natural methods that have been around for thousands of years, rather than embracing synthetic materials.
The term "organic farming" was first seen around the year 1940, used by agronomist Lord Northbourne in his book, "Look to the Land." Northbourne described the notion of a farm being a type of living entity.
Organic farming is a holistic approach, utilizing agricultural principles that involve soil fertility, crop rotation and natural pest control. Simply put, it lets nature run things, without relying on synthetic additions and methods that have no natural origins.
There are several everyday products that can be produced in an organic matter, including vegetables, grains, meat, dairy, eggs and fibers such as cotton. The goal is keeping them as close to their natural state as possible.
Farms that believe they have met the criteria to become fully certified as organic may then submit an application to regulators, who then come and perform a number of inspections to ensure that all of the criteria is met in a proper way,
When growing organic foods, organic farmers avoid synthetic pesticides or fertilizers on crops, and also reject any synthetic hormones for animals. In addition to avoiding certain things, there are also some actual strategic methods used as well.
This is done in several ways.
Organic livestock involves avoiding antibiotics or other medications in their livestock. The animals are provided organic feed, and guaranteed access to the outdoors, rather than being caged in an indoor pen all day.
All of the above organic methods are continua and ongoing, and must be strictly adhered to if the farm wishes to remain a truly organic farm.
Switching to, or making an effort to use organic food more often provides a wide range of benefits in more ways than you may initially think. While many of the benefits directly affect you, they also provide a positive effect for the environment around you.
Pesticides have been a divisive topic for decades now. More than one commercially used pesticide has been shown to cause ill effects in humans over time, and the debate continues to rage on about certain pesticides being used today.
You’ll see in the news from time to time about widely used pesticides coming under scrutiny for possible side effects. It’s happened before, and it will continue to happen until pesticide use ceases.
Many of these products are in fact deemed safe by regulators, but there is really no way to gauge the long-term effects for the world at large. Minor conditions and even cancer have been linked to exposure to pesticides, as well as digestive problems.
While you should always wash your produce before eating, it’s not a guarantee that you can simply rinse or scrub all of the pesticides off. In some cases, it may even make its way inside the food during the harvesting and transport process.
Organic food doesn’t rely on chemical pesticides, but instead uses natural pesticides and pest control methods that don’t leave harmful residues or even penetrate the produce itself. Some of these “natural” pesticides include peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and garlic oil.
Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have been shown to cause issues when they seep into the ground, or get caught up in the atmosphere. Over time, this can cause the land itself to lose its quality, while also contributing to many of the problems in the atmosphere.
While a small bit of pesticide sprayed on some crops may seem minor at first, when you multiply that with the massive amounts of pesticides used around the world each day, it adds up rather quickly.
Pesticides have also been shown to leak into the groundwater below, or make their way to nearby bodies of water that are used to sustain plant and animal life in the area. The long-term effects can be devastating when not kept in check -- which is never a guarantee.
This is just another reason why foods treated pesticides are best avoided. Organic products avoid chemical pesticides, and also use natural composting and manure as fertilizer instead, so you’re left with produce that’s not only free of chemicals, but also grown on land that is free of chemicals.
This is better for the land, air, and water, and the more organic farming is embraced, the less issues conventional farming will cause the environment.
Organic farming methods result in foods that are more nutritious than their conventionally-grown counterparts. The use of rich compost and natural growing methods create healthier foods containing a higher amount of vitamins and nutrients.
While certain foods stand to benefit more from organic farming methods, the avoidance of chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic modification are all conducive to producing a superior product that has all of the vitamins and nutrients it’s supposed to when grown naturally.
Genetically-modified foods are a hot topic of debate these days, and it’s easy to see the arguments for their use, depending on the food or produce, or the communities they are used in.
While there are certain parts of the world that may benefit from GMOs due to poor conditions for farming, the genetic modification can also strip away some of the healthier traits of these foods, and may also contain some long-term effects that may not be realized just yet.
Many GMO foods are actually engineered to become resistant to certain herbicides and pesticides, so that these chemicals can be more freely used on the foods without worrying about any negative effects on them.
Organic food avoids the question altogether, and instead provides you with unaltered food in its natural state, without any worry or lack of taste and quality. You don’t have to wonder about whether or not your particular produce was developed in a lab, or if it will somehow have adverse effects over time as you get older.
This is probably the first thing most people notice about organic food -- It just tastes better. For many, that’s all they need to know. Yes, the health and environment benefits are great, but it’s hard to argue with making your food taste better simply by switching to products created organically.
If you’ve ever grown anything at your home, whether it’s a few peppers and herbs, or an entire vegetable garden, you notice immediately how much better the produce tastes from the stuff you get at the store.
The logic is simple. Whenever you’re cooking or making a dish, the quality of the ingredients is equally as important as the right portions, and the proper cooking methods. Even with all of the best equipment and cooking knowledge, if you are using poor ingredients, you’re final result will not be as good as it could be.
Organic foods are cultivated in a way that retains all of their natural flavor profiles, without any interference from synthetic materials. You can always taste the difference, and you’ll taste it in your cooking as well.
There have been several studies done to gauge the effects of antioxidants found inside organic foods, and the overall impact on health. The vast majority of results have shown that antioxidants tend to have more of an impact when they are taken from organic foods.
There are a number of factors at play that support these findings. This is likely the result of organic foods avoiding foreign chemicals that can negatively interact with the different vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds found inside fruits and vegetables.
Cancer, heart disease, premature aging, vision problems, and cognitive malfunction are all issues that benefit from a steady intake of antioxidants. Recent research suggests that choosing organic food can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants in addition to limiting one’s exposure to toxic and synthetic chemicals.
There are plenty of reasons to make the switch to using organic foods, or at least making a direct effort attempt to use organic products when you can.
As you’ve seen already, organic food products are better for your health, and the impact spans a wide variety of factors.
The higher amounts of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants found in organic foods provides an easier way to get natural access these vital things on a regular basis, rather than relying on supplements. Over time, you will begin to feel a difference.
But these benefits are not just centered on what you are getting from organic foods; what you’re avoiding is equally important.
The numerous toxins and chemicals found in conventional foods can cause harm in ways that are still not yet fully realized. Many blame conventional farming as one of the biggest culprits in the rise of birth defects, cancer, and other conditions.
While studies are still ongoing, the effects of these chemicals and toxins have been proven in some cases, causing regulations that ban or limit the use of certain chemicals in food production. This is obviously a good thing, but there is no doubt that other ones may be slipping through the radar.
Other health effects of these factors may be more limited, or just be an annoyance. Certain food allergies, asthma, and some dietary issues can sometimes come from conventionally grown foods, leading some physicians to encourage patients to adopt a strictly organic diet.
This all provides an even bigger incentive to use organic foods as much as you can. When switching to organic foods, you don’t have to worry about any of these problems that can come from chemicals and toxins.
Instead, you can take solace knowing that your food is chemical-free, and avoids the use of any substances that could cause issues in both the short and long term.
Organic farms almost always follow sustainable practices that not not only ensure the organic farming process, but help the environment as well. These practices allow for high-yield farming in an environmentally-friendly way, helping the land itself and the air around it.
The avoidance of chemicals and pesticides also plays a huge role in benefiting the environment, keeping these substances out of the air, land, and streams as well.
When you buy organic foods, you are actively supporting and encouraging sustainable, safe, and responsible practices that continue to spread around the world as more consumers make the switch. Over time, carbon footprints will continue to be reduced, while also reducing the amount of chemicals in and on the earth.
This helps protects plants and wildlife, and also helps provide a cleaner atmosphere for current and future generations.
As more people continue to use organic products, the economic impact continues to rise for those in the organic industry. Purchasing organic foods helps small and local farmers make a living in a professions that also benefits the world at large. The more people buy their products, the more they can continue to put out.
The positives are obvious. As organic food producers continue to grow, they can hire more employees, and purchase more equipment and materials from suppliers. The long term effects that come from this are lower prices for the consumer. Everyone wins.
We've touched on this already, but using organic foods instantly improves the taste. Vegetable have a fuller flavor, fruits are sweeter, spices are more potent. Even if you didn’t care about all the other great benefits of organic products, this would be enough for most.
While you are certainly free to go all-in with organic food and immediately begin purchasing strictly organic products, there are ways to slowly implement organic foods into your diet, or into your cooking.
Using organic spices and smaller items such as butter are very simple and easy ways to have a touch of organic benefits in your food, regardless of whatever else you’re using.
Spices such as organic turmeric and organic ginger retain all of their well-known health benefits, and also include a higher potency, better flavor, and of course all of the other factors we’ve already been over.
Organic butters don’t necessarily have to be dairy either. Organic pumpkin seed butter is a very healthy and tasty options, and organic nut butters such as cashew and almond provide a different spin on the conventional peanut butters most are used to.
You can also opt for organic snacks such as organic papitas and other seeds. If you cook a lot of soups and stews, or simply prefer a vegetarian diet, products such as organic lentils and organic daal ae all easy ways to use organic foods as the basis of your dish.
Other simple and easy ways to include organic foods in your diet is to purchase organic vegetable and organic fruits that you use the most often. Some of the most popular organic fruits and vegetables include lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, apples, blueberries, watermelon, cucumbers, grapes, and strawberries.
Organic products don’t just stop with standard foods and produce. You can easily find organic shampoo, organic soaps, and organic hygiene products. These products give you a more natural way to bathe and stay fresh without using potentially harmful chemicals.
Organic cleaners are also rising in popularity. These cleaners use a potent mix of natural oils and other derivatives to clean everything from your bathroom, to your laundry, to your carpet -- all without filling your home with chemicals and synthetic compounds.
Organic baby formula use is on the rise too, as many parents are recognizing the benefits of starting their infants on an organic diet at an early age.
By now you should have a better understanding of what exactly makes food organic, as well as all of the many benefits that come along from using organic products.
The organic industry isn’t new by any means, but it’s continued rise is a good thing for both you and the world around you. As more people continue to opt for organic food and other products more frequently, overall health will improve, and the environment will too.
Choosing organic products over conventional ones is an easy way to make a conscience effort in improving your own health, while also supporting those who are committed to sustainable and beneficial farming and manufacturing methods that benefit everyone.
Whether you’re just starting out by purchasing smaller items such as spices, or switching over all of your produce to organic, you can take solace in the fact that you are avoiding harmful chemicals and toxins, while also contributing to a better environment and way of life