Take a walk through your kitchen. How much organic produce is in your refrigerator and fruit bowl? Does most of your diet originate from a box or a bag? If you had to count the number of whole foods you eat every day, would you only need one hand?
If you’re light on the produce, cardboard boxes make up a large portion of your garbage, and crackers, chips or cookies make up most of your snacks, chances are your diet could use an infusion of good healthy foods. Here’s why fiber-rich, organic nutrients should make up most (if not all) of your diet.
What Are Healthy Foods?
Are you reaching for that box of “healthy” crackers? Do yourself a favor and check out the nutrition label first. Fat-free snacks make up the taste difference with extra sugar. The sodium content is often off the charts. And if you eat right out of the package, chances are you’re consuming far more than the recommended portion.
So what are healthy foods, exactly? Anything that you eat in its natural state. Organic apples are tasty and high in fiber. Bananas have lots of potassium. Green leaf vegetables have calcium. Just make sure you choose organic, because conventional meats and produce often contain dangerous pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormones and worse.
About organic food
Organic food is food that is handled differently from conventional food. Organic food is supposed to be produced without pesticides, synthetic or sewage-derived fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, irradiation, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Since each of these substances has been shown to cause a variety of troubling health problems, including obesity, cancer and more, eliminating them from your diet makes good healthy sense.
The label provides the key to organic products
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has imposed strict regulations regarding how organic products must be labeled. Here's an explanation of some of the USDA's terms.
- Organic - Single ingredient foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, meats, cheese and eggs plus multi-ingredient foods which contain between 95% and 100% organic can be certified organic. To be labeled 100% organic, a product must contain 100% organically produced ingredients. This does not include added water or salt.
- Made with organic ingredients - Products containing between 70% and 95% organic ingredients can include the words "made with organic ingredients" on the front of the product.
- Less than 70% organic ingredients - Products containing less than 70% organic ingredients can cite this fact on the back panel.
- Certified organic vs. not certified - Certified Organic indicates that a product complies with the regulations of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the product has been certified by an independent, USDA-approved certifying agency.
Other terminology on labels
Some product labels indicate alternative terminology to organic which implies healthier growing practices but these products do not meet the USDA's organic specifications. These terms can be confusing to consumers.
- All natural/naturally grown - This term indicates that a product was processed and packaged without preservatives or additives but it may include genetically modified ingredients or ingredients grown with the use of pesticides. Note: This term is not regulated by the USDA.
- Free-range/cage-free - This term signifies that livestock is free to roam outside of confined areas. The USDA only regulates this term for poultry. The USDA does not specify a minimum amount of outdoor access required for poultry to be labeled free-range. Free-range products are not necessarily organic.
- Raised without antibiotics/no antibiotics used - These products are not necessarily organic, but it does mean that they were raised without growth-producing hormones or antibiotics.
- Grass-fed/meadow-raised/vegetarian-fed - Grass-fed livestock are raised on grasses and legumes. Meadow raised livestock are fed grains. Vegetarian-fed indicates that livestock was not fed any animal parts. These products may or may not be organic.
- Biodynamic - This is an organic production method that refers to natural rhythms of the sun, moon, planets and stars but the NOP does not certify this terminology. All biodynamic products are supposed to be organic.
- Fair trade - Products like coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas are deemed fair traded because they are grown in developing countries. These products may not be organic.
In most cases, organically grown foods are more expensive than conventionally grown foods. As the organic food industry grows and more national food chains carry organic products, the cost to you may decrease as well.