Author: Scott Smith
Navigating the Aisles: Organic Foods
By: Dianna Sinni
With the organic industry booming, it’s easy to assume organic is synonymous with healthier. It’s as if organic cake mix is all of a sudden a viable source for vitality simply because the box is green. Even though this organic treat is free from GMOs (genetically modified organisms), artificial additives, and harsh pesticides, it’s probably high in refined sugar, sodium, saturated fat and lacking in nourishing fiber, vitamins and minerals. When compared to a conventionally grown apple, it should be obvious that the apple is still a healthier choice-even not being organic.
The USDA organic label is not a label of nutritional benefit, but rather an indicator that a food was grown with environmentally sound practices, without genetic alterations (GMOs) or irradiation, and free from harsh chemicals. There have been some studies revealing organic plant-based foods as having more antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts; however this has not been conclusive. Plain and simple, it’s important to be a smart shopper. Food manufacturers do a great job at misleading consumers with their fancy jargon and bold health claims. Stick to the only reliable source of information on a package: the nutrition facts label.
As a general rule of thumb, products that are more packaged and processed probably aren’t going to be the healthiest choice. Look for a short ingredient list comprised of whole foods, ingredients that haven’t been processed or void of nutrients. Even better yet, choose foods without an ingredient list like fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds!
What about the price of organics? Yes, foods labeled organic do tend to have a higher price, all for good reason. Farmers using organic practices usually have a smaller crop yield, are not being subsidized by the government, and use more labor intensive practices to ward off pests without using chemical means. They must maintain soil composition and use clean, potable water as well. Many of these practices lead to a higher quality of food and enhanced biodiversity.
If you wonder what foods are best to buy organically, check out the Environmental Working Group’s shopper guide which highlights the best and worst produce to buy conventionally. Typically, fruits and vegetables with a thinner, more porous skin like strawberries or apples are better to buy organically, while thick skinned avocados and bananas are okay to buy conventionally, especially since you’ll be discarding the peels.
Eating organic is a very personal choice. Bottom line: No matter your food preference, always shop for nutrient dense options and eat a wide variety of plant-based foods.
Dianna is the Healthy Eating Specialist at Whole Foods Market (119th Street, Overland Park, KS). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics/Nutrition, and is currently completing her dietetic internship to pursue her Registered Dietitian credentials. She regularly contributes to local publications including Edible KC and Living Wellness KC.