From sparse availability in the early 1990s to the powerhouses they have become today, organic foods have opened new opportunities into healthy lifestyles for millions of people around the globe. The business of producing organic foods, including produce, meats, and prepared foods is booming. It is estimated that about 70 percent of all Americans make organic food purchases, and over 25% purchase organic foods each week.
Organic foods do tend to cost a bit more – up to 50% or more in some cases – than traditionally-produced foods. Is that extra cost worth it? In this guide, we will look into what organic foods are, what their environmental impact is, and where consumers can get the most for their money in terms of healthy, organically-produced foods.
What is Organic Food?
Organic foods comprise a wide range of products, from meats to vegetables and fruits and even prepared foods. The term “organic” was coined in the early part of the 20th century, and referred originally to holistic farming practices. Today, the word “organic” is strictly controlled; in order for a food to be labeled as organic, it must meet rigorous standards and guidelines established by local, state, and Federal regulatory agencies. Each country has its own standards, but in general terms, organic foods are those produced without the use of artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
Is Organic Food Better for Health?
Research on the health benefits of organic foods has been hit or miss. Several studies suggest that organically-produced foods are higher in nutritional content than those produced by more traditional chemical-intensive methods. One factor in higher content of phytochemicals like vitamins, antioxidants and trace elements is that plants can produce more of them in the absence of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
Pesticide residues are a potential health concern, particularly among people who rely on fruits and vegetables for the bulk of their food intake. By ridding produce of the toxic pesticides, people are able to take better control of what goes into their bodies. Even low-level exposure to pesticide and chemical residues, including heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium, can have long-range negative health effects. Organic foods have been demonstrated time and again to be healthier in that respect than traditionally-farmed products.
Organic Foods and the Environment
Organic farming practices reduce the impact to the environment around us. Commercial farming operations that use chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers are responsible for groundwater contamination, leading to dangerously high levels of harmful substances in our water supplies. Organic farming practices also benefit the environment, actually enriching the soil and making it more resistant to erosion. These farming practices are also less resource-intensive than conventional farming, reducing energy uses by up to 50% in many cases.
Which Organic Foods are Best?
Because organic foods tend to be more expensive than those products grown conventionally, many consumers wonder where the best places to spend their hard-earned dollars lie. To get the most benefits, a number of fruits and vegetables stand out. These include:
- Sweet peppers
Typically, these produce items require higher levels of pesticides to fight off bugs in conventional farming practices. The organic versions, however, are free from such concerns. It is also critical to check package labeling, and to look for USDA Organic Foods certification seals on the products you purchase. From meats to fruits, prepared goods, and fresh or canned vegetables, organic foods make sense from both an environmental and health perspective.