Karen Ensle Ed.D.., RD, FADA, CFCS Family and Community Health Sciences Educator Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Here’s an interesting health and wealth connection…should families eat organic foods even if they have a higher price tag? Is it healthier to eat organics and do they really have the power to fight disease and promote longer life? The word "organic" refers to the way farmers grow and process 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. If you decide to buy organic food, look for a USDA Organic label as it indicates that the food was produced and processed according to USDA standards and at least 95% of the ingredients in that food are organically produced. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it as indicated below:
- Products that are 100% organic such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single ingredient foods also carry a USDA seal.
- Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients can say “made with organic ingredients” and the organic seal cannot be used on these products. Food labels may contain other information such as “all-natural, “free-range” or “hormone-free”; however these terms do not mean the food is “organic”.
- The USDA now uses private and state agencies to inspect and certify food companies that market organic foods. Small farmers with less than $5,000 in organic sales, such as those selling at small farmers’ markets, are exempt from the certification process but they still must be truthful in their label claims and comply with government standards.
- Individuals or companies who sell or label a product as organic when they know it does not meet USDA standards, can be fined up to $10,000 for each violation.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season to ensure the highest quality. Also, try to buy your produce the day it's delivered to market, for the freshest food possible.
- 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.
- Don't confuse natural foods with organic foods. Only those products with the "USDA Organic" label have met USDA standards.
- Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water to reduce the amount of dirt and bacteria. If appropriate, use a small scrub brush to clean apples, potatoes, cucumbers or other produce in which you eat the outer skin.
- Pesticide concerns? Peel fruits/vegetables and trim outer leaves of leafy vegetables in addition to washing them thoroughly. Peeling fruits and vegetables may also reduce the amount of nutrients and fiber. Some pesticide residue also collects in fat, so remove fat from meat and the skin from poultry and fish.