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“What is organic labeling?” and “Is organic worth it?” As a health coach, these are questions I often get from my clients. It’s sad, but we live in a maze of false and misleading labeling, which is only complicated by the media hype surrounding it. The good news? Organic labeling tends to be pretty clear and is also well defined by the USDA. So, let me give you the organic definition and explain what exactly “organic” means to help you decipher those sometimes mysterious labels.
The Organic Definition. What does “Organic” Mean?
Put simply, if you see the “USDA Organic” or “Certified Organic” seal on your food, the item must have an ingredients list and the contents should be 95% or more certified organic, meaning free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering, according to the USDA. The remaining 5% may only be foods or processed with additives on an approved list.
Organically labeled foods must be overseen by the USDA National Organic Program and comply with all the USDA organic requirements. If a product claims to be organic, all ingredients in the final product must be certified and will have the organic seal. However, organic farmers who sell less than $5000.00 worth of products are exempt from the certification process.
Understanding Organic Labels
Organic foods can be labeled in so many different ways. Below, I outline common organic labels and what they actually mean.
- “100% organic” – All ingredients have met the organic criteria.
- “Organic” – All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic. Up to 5% of non-organic content including water and salt is allowed.
- “Made with Organic” – The food has at least 70% certified organic ingredients.
For alcohol, the USDA Organic seal can only be used if there are no added sulfites and the other ingredients in the alcohol (such as fruit) are organic and certified by an appropriate agency.
It’s also important to keep in mind that products on which the USDA Organic seal is not allowed can still designate their certified organic ingredients on their ingredients list.
Is Organic Better?
There has been a lot of discussion about organic foods and if they are healthier. Sadly, none of our food is as nutritious as it once was due to contemporary farming practices like picking before crops are ripe and transporting long distances. But, practices for organic farming are usually much better than those used in conventional farming.
As follows, there are certainly benefits to organic foods. Organic foods contain no harmful pesticides. Additionally, synthetic additives and antibiotics cannot be added to animal feed for organics and no GMO seeds are used for organics. Sustainability is also an important part of organic foods and farming. And how you use your spending power as a consumer can help grow these practices!
Conventionally farmed meat tends to be more contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. If you are looking for less less toxic chemicals, then your best bet is to find a way to purchase organic meats. If budget is an issue, then start low and slow. I suggest starting with 1 day a week all organic. I believe that organic grass fed meats and organic chickens hold the greatest impact to your health.
For fruits and veggies, start your organic buying with the “dirty dozen”, the most pesticide laden produce (listed below).
The 12 Most Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Grapes (Imported)
I hope this gives you a better understanding of organic labeling and the benefits of organic foods. And as for whether organic is really worth it, you will have to decide according to your own beliefs and health goals. For me, organic is definitely worth it but, even so, I don’t necessarily buy it all the time. I eat organic 75% of the time and it has taken me about 3 years to get here. If it feels too hard or too expensive, just ease into it. I believe that living organically is a lifestyle that once you start, you will not want to turn back!
Jean Cornell, RN, Ph.D. CNHP and founder of NaturalHealthWellbeingNetwork.com, is a health coach specializing in organic lifestyles, weight loss and detoxification. She provides seminars, video courses, online health programs (like her healthy kitchen makeover program), webinars, one-on-one customized health coaching programs and free health assessments.
Read Next: Natural Does NOT Mean Organic!
Living Natural Today Wants to Know:
- Can you think of other reasons to choose organic?
Joyce @ It's Your Life says
Great post, I am going to link this on my Real Food Fridays Link Up. We almost ended it due to alot of posts that were not related to real food. It than came to us that we still have a lot of educating to do. Most people think if it is made from scratch it is real food, this will help educate those who don’t know what real food is. Thanks pinning to my healthy eating board.
Hi Joyce – Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for linking it up! Also, glad to hear you’re helping to educate others. That’s so important since today’s food and labels can be so confusing.