Organic Food: What is it and What You Need to Know
There are a lot of food trends hitting our culture today. Vegetarian, vegan, and one that has been popular for a while now. That is organic food. Many grocery stores have an entire section dedicated to only organic and natural food. And there is a lot in that category. So why is organic food so trendy? Is it just a hipster fad, or is there more to it? Let’s find out.
What Is Organic
What makes food organic? Organic food is food that is produced without using pesticides, artificial additives, or other genetically modified ingredients. When you buy regular food, many times it is made using chemicals that repel insects and animals that would hurt the production, and they use artificial sweeteners. When you buy organic foods, they are made without any of those chemicals or added sugars.
Why Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad?
Zero calorie sugar. That is what artificial sweeteners marketed themselves as. Sweeteners that would not make you gain more calories. However, there are many of health risks that come with that claim. For a while now, foods and drinks with added sugar have been linked to many serious health issues. Some examples of these health issues include obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Many studies have been made researching the effects of zero-calorie sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose. The results are various. Some saying that they are potentially beneficial, others saying that they are harmful, and others that have been fairly neutral, they do not see any serious benefits or harm. However, more and more evidence is becoming available showing that they are linked to various health issues.
There have been many studies and tests done to research the effect of artificial sweeteners on the human body. Weight gain is actually of the most common effect. Even though their tagline says that their sugars do not have calories so you will not gain weight. However, they affect your body in a way that confuses it. This is called metabolic confusion or syndrome. What happens with metabolic syndrome is your brain’s pleasure pathways are tricked. When you eat something sweet, dopamine is released in your brain, which activates its reward center. Leptin, which is a hormone that regulates your appetite, which eventually tells your brain that you are “full” once a certain amount of calories are ingested.
Now, when you eat something sweet but does not have the calories, this is when your brain gets tricked. The pleasure pathway is activated like usual, but there is nothing to deactivate it since there no calories. By tricking your body into thinking that it is going to get sugar but nothing arrives, your body will continue to tell the brain that it wants more. This results in “carb cravings”. This is wanting something sweet or sugary which usually ends in you eating a lot of something sweet. And, everyone knows that carbs = weight gain.
Metabolic syndrome is not the cause only for weight gain. This has also been linked to many other issues. Examples of these issues include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal levels of cholesterol. These issues also increase your risk for having a stroke, heart disease and various others. Studies have suggested that people who drink artificially sweetened drinks, like many brands of soda, they may have double the risk compared to those who do not drink those. The same has been shown for both regular and diet sodas.
Type 2 Diabetes
In a study done by the Weizmann Institute of Science, it was found that artificial sweeteners can not be digested. Eran Segal, biologist at the Weizmann Institute, said “the magnitude of the differences were not just a few percentages. These were actually very drastic differences we saw in both mine and in the human settings.” The series of experiments that Segal is referring to were conducted in mine and human subjects. Researchers studied the interaction between microbes in your gut and the consumption of the sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine. Depending on certain factors in each subject like the types of microbes they had, some of the experiments resulted in a two to four time increase in the blood sugar levels. This was shown after consuming artificial sweeteners for a short time. Over time, if your blood sugar continues to increase and stay increased, it can lead to diabetes.
What makes food organic? Well, it is all in the production and farming of that food. Any food can be made organically. Fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, even meat. Organic agriculture is actually enforced by strict government standards. This requires that products claiming organic are made without the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other old practices like sewage sludge or irradiation. This ensures that the food being produced is not only good for human health, but also for environmental health.
Environmental health is a big goal for organic farming. Using pesticides and nitrogen rich fertilizers are one of the driving factors for soil and water pollution. The chemicals in pesticides create imbalances in the chemical components in both of those ecosystems. Whenever an ecosystem becomes imbalanced, the species often have difficulty adapting to the change and are damaged or even killed. Enhanced nitrogen fertilizers are damaging because they too create a chemical imbalance in the soil which directly affects the nitrogen cycle. It may help the growth of crops, but it affects many other things in a negative way.
Organic foods offer the backing of government regulations that assure the buyer that the food they are eating will be free of toxic chemicals and artificial additives. The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) serves to establish national standards for the production and the handling of foods that are labeled as organic. This act created a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) which created those national standards. The NOP also oversees the certification of organic production which is mandatory. In addition, the act also created the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the previously mentioned standards.
The definition of the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is as follows.
- “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
- “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
- “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
- “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”
In addition, found in a USDA customer brochure titled Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts, it gives a statement of what organic food is. “What is organic food? 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. It is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects 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.”
Organic or Natural
Many people confuse the terms organic and natural. These terms are similar but not interchangeable. However, natural foods do not have the same government regulations that foods labeled as organic have. Foods that claim the label of natural have no regulations behind them. “Natural” foods usually do not have any added ingredients or artificial flavors or sweeteners but that is where the comparison stops.
Organic food standards include growing food without toxic and persistent pesticides, no synthetic growth hormones, no petroleum-based fertilizers, and no cloning. “Natural” foods have no regulation standards for how the food is grown. “Natural” standards are more focused on how the food is processed. Their standards include no artificial colors or flavors, no artificial preservatives, no irradiated products or ingredients, and no GMOs. Organic foods cover all bases mentioned. However, those processing standards for “natural” foods have no actual regulations to ensure that those standards are held.
Best Organic Foods
In 2010, a group called the Environmental Working Group, put together two lists of foods that could help consumers known when they should buy organic and when it is unnecessary. This being because buying organic can be a little more expensive than buying conventional foods. This is because food that is organically grown produces less than conventionally grown food. The increase in price is so farmers and companies can still ensure a profit through organic foods.
These two lists of food are called “The Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15”. The “Dirty Dozen” foods, when conventionally grown, showed the appearance of about 47 different chemicals. The term Dirty means that you should definitely buy these foods and vegetables organic.
“The Dirty Dozen”
- Domestic Blueberries
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Spinach, Kale and Collard Greens
- Imported Grapes
The following list, the “Clean 15”, are foods that have shown little to no trace of pesticides or other chemicals. While the organic production of these foods is still available, it is not completely necessary with these foods.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Kiwi Fruit
- Sweet Potatoes
- Sweet Onions
Meat, you should always be bought organic because most conventionally raised meats have been treated with antibiotics and other hormones to increase production. Those chemicals have no place in the bodies of animals, let alone humans.
Benefits of Organic Food
So, you know why organic food is good for the environment. You know why artificial sweeteners and additives are bad. Now onto the actual benefits to you by eating organic. How food is grown and raised, in terms of meat, has a real impact on your mental and emotional health.
Organic food is fresher. This is because they do not contain the preservatives that make the food last longer. True this means that they have a much shorter shelf life, however this means that when you buy it, it will be fresh because it was most likely recently put out. While conventional food could have been sitting on the shelf for a week already.
Animals that are raised organically, like cows and chickens, are not treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or are fed any animal byproducts. Yes that actually happens. By feeding animals the byproducts of other animals, it increases the risk of mad cow disease. The use of antibiotics can create antibiotic resistant strains. Organically raised animals most often have better living conditions, like more space and access to the outside, which keeps them naturally healthy.
Organic meat and milk are much richer in nutrients. In 2016, a European study found that levels of certain nutrients, like omega 3 fatty acids, were up to 50% higher in organic meat and dairy than in conventionally produced. Organic food is also free of GMO or GE, which is Genetically Modified Organisms or genetically engineered. This happens when plants have their DNA altered in a way that is not natural or in crossbreeding, so the results of those plants have a higher resistance to pesticides and insecticides.
Where to Buy Organic
You can buy organic food anywhere, at any grocery store. Most will feature a variety of organic foods. Giant Food Stores have an entire section dedicated to selling organic foods. Most are also vegetarian or vegan, so if you are, it is a win-win. Another great way to buy organic is to shop at local markets. Most food that local markets sell will be organic or at least natural. This is also a great way to support your town’s small businesses.
For more information about organic foods, climate change or the environment, check out the rest of Greenandgrowing.com