People try organic diets for all kinds of reasons, from worries about food safety, the environmental impact of mass-produced food, or a wish to just eat fresher, healthier, tastier food. More and more, studies are showing the gradual positive impact of organic foods on people’s diets.
What Does an Organic Diet Entail?
In order to be USDA certified as organic, food manufacturers have to meet certain requirements. These are the labels you should look for:
- 100% organic
This is for foods with no synthetic ingredients. Look for the USDA’s notable green and white seal. The producers needed to apply for permission to use this label.
If 95% of the food is from organically raised ingredients, this food may also have the USDA seal, but cannot say that it’s completely organic.
- Made with organic ingredients
This means that the food you’re holding is at least 70% organic. They may not use the organic seal from the USDA, but it is a regulated claim.
Here are the foods that you will and won’t be eating as part of an organic diet:
Organic Diet Tips
If you’re interested in shopping for organic food, look out for those labels, and don’t rely on things labeled “natural” or “all-natural.”
Because some types of conventionally grown produce have pesticide levels that are much higher than others, it’s possible to mostly avoid unhealthy non-organic foods without looking for organic labels on every item you buy. Here’s a short list of some of the most problematic foods. Even if you don’t adopt a primarily organic diet, you should be careful to buy these specific foods in the organic section if at all possible:
- Kale, collard greens, spinach
- Summer squash
- Cherry tomatoes
- Bell peppers
If you eat produce from the list below, rest assured that while certified organic is nice, you’ll probably still not be eating too many ingredients you don’t like; this produce, sometimes called the “clean 15,” is naturally low in pesticides.
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Sweet potato
If you can afford to buy organic meat, eggs, and dairy, it may pay off. Some nutrition experts say that eating grass-fed meat and organic dairy products don’t carry the same risks as those produced by conventionally raised livestock. Cows, pigs, and chickens are typically fed antibiotics, pig and chicken byproducts, growth hormones, pesticides, sewage sludge, and arsenic-based drugs. By buying organic, you can avoid ingesting those toxic fertilizers and pesticides.
If you’re looking to lower the cost of shopping organic, consider looking at your local farmers’ market, joining a food co-op, or becoming a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in your area. Buy in-season produce, shop around and skip the organic junk food. Remember, just because it’s got the green USDA stamp of approval doesn’t make it low in sugar, salt, calories or fat.
A great option for receiving ready-made meals is organic meal kit delivery. These kits provide a weekly selection of prepped and packaged ingredients so you can enjoy home cooked food without the hassle!
Why Use an Organic Diet?
Though more information has come to light about the environmental impact of mainstreaming farming practices, and some people do choose organic diets for this reason, most people who go organic are trying to support their health. Organic food doesn’t contain toxic pesticides, such as glyphosate (brand name: Roundup), which has been classified by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, as a “probable human carcinogen,” and insecticides, like chlorpyrifos, which is associated with birth defects and infant brain delays. Pesticides are linked to ADHD increases, reduced sperm quality in men, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Synthetic hormones are also proven to potentially increase the risk of cancers. There’s growing evidence against GMOs too, suggesting that they can contribute to kidney related problems, tumors, and intestinal damage. Eating organic also reduces your exposure to toxic heavy metals, such as cadmium, which shows up in common pesticides.
Fear factor aside, there are also positive reasons to eat an organic diet, not only to avoid the risks of a conventional one. Research shows that organic produce has higher antioxidant levels, and some studies suggest that organic produce has higher levels of vitamin C and certain minerals.
Food experts suggest that organic food may not be more nutritious. Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s hospital and registered dietitian says, “There have been a number of studies examining the macro-and micronutrient content, but whether organic or conventionally grown, the foods are really similar for vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates.” The verdict, she says, is still out. If you can manage the higher price of organic food, or want to try limiting the “Dirty Dozen” list of high-pesticide foods, that’s probably a positive move. It’s certainly more environmentally friendly, and global health relies on the Earth’s well-being.
Where to Start
The organic food industry is regulated, with strict standards and the USDA stamp of approval. It reduces your exposure of all kinds of disturbing chemicals, heavy metals and synthetic hormones. Its impact on nutrition has been proven to be marginal, and the cost can be high, about 20-30% more than conventionally farmed foods. There’s a strong positive environmental impact of organic farming. Begin small. Buy certain organic fruits and veggies, milk, and eggs. Look into meal plans that accommodate organic diets and will help you plan your meals with in-season produce to cut costs. Don’t expect instant results, but you may find that you feel cleaner, more energetic, and certainly more satisfied.