The world of nutrition and healthy eating is one that’s filled with tons of information — some of it contradictory. Some nutrition experts might recommend low carb or high fiber diets. Others might caution against processed foods, artificial sweeteners or food dyes. Still others argue against genetically modified foods and recommend organics. But what is organic food?
Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients 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.
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows: Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a government-approved certifier must inspect the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
The USDA has identified for three categories of labeling organic products:
• 100 percent Organic: Made with 100 percent organic ingredients;
• Organic: Made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients;
• Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30 percent including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
When Angie Laverty decided to give juicing a try, she wanted to use organic produce.
She began shopping but was discouraged at how expensive it was compared to conventional produce. She then sought out businesses that would put together boxes of organic produce at a better price than grocery stores could offer, but she couldn’t find any. So she started her own company, Prudent Produce, which delivers organic produce throughout the metro.
Prudent Produce allows customers to purchase a weekly box of organic produce delivered to their doorsteps. Each week customers can go online to see what will arrive in their boxes. They are able to swap out ingredients based on their own preferences as well. There are three box sizes, depending on the size of the family.
“We’re year-round,” she says. “It’s not all local; it comes from distributors. During the growing season, we deal with local farm. We get the best from wherever we can get it.”
Laverty says she decided organic was the way to go because of the quality. Fruits especially have a better taste, she claims.
“I want the produce without the toxins,” she says. “I think it’s common sense. I didn’t think about it until I started juicing. I do think people are starting to realize, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be eating these things over the long haul.’ ”
Wellness coach Rachel Swanson works at Lifestream Chiropractic on the clinic’s nutrition program. She says her job is to help people make good food choices. She encourages them to look at the big picture and start eating whole foods, then worry about whether they want to incorporate organics.
“After you have that foundation, then you realize that whole foods are good, but you get a boost of nutrients when it hasn’t been artificially preserved and grown with pesticides and herbicides,” she says. “When it’s grown in its natural environment, it’s so much better.”
Jeff Macke works for the City of Grimes, and he and his family are vegetarian and proponents of eating organics.
“When we had children, we started evaluating those things more,” he says. “My wife’s a biochemist, and she became more and more educated, tested preservatives added to pet food, and she became more aware of what can happen when they break down.”
Macke says they have done a lot of research on the topic, and he encourages people to consider the source, no matter where they get their information. Most of all, they always look at the ingredients of whatever they buy.
“We try to avoid artificial colors, high frucose corn syrup and nasty chemicals, preservatives and hydrogenated fats,” he says. “I won’t buy potato chips if they have cottonseed oil. Cotton isn’t considered a food crop, so the chemicals applied aren’t chemicals that are approved for food consumption.”
That said, there are some items in which an organic food doesn’t necessarily carry with it a big difference in health benefits. There are also many healthy foods that aren’t necessarily certified organic because the process is a challenging one for growers. The Mackes eat tomatoes grown in Carroll even though they aren’t certified organic because they know the growers and their practices.
Macke says there are many illnesses and problems in today’s society, and doctors aren’t sure why. He believes ingesting chemicals day in and day out could have something to do with it.
“We err on the side of caution,” he says. “We don’t want toxic chemicals sprayed on our food or put in the ground it’s grown on. If a bug won’t eat it, we don’t want to eat it.”