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What To Choose When Buying Organic

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Organic food products are in demand! Most American consumers purchase organic food at least some of the time.

While some buy organic foods to support producers’ environmentally friendly practices, most are trying to cut their exposure to chemicals in the foods they eat. New research shows that pesticides and other contaminants are more prevalent in some of our foods and environment than previously thought and eating organic can reduce exposure to these chemicals.

What does “organic” mean?

Foods that carry the “USDA Organic” seal:

  • Have been grown and processed based on the National Organic Standards (NOS).
  • Animals have not been treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts.
  • Animals must have been fed organic feed for at least a year and must have access to the outdoors.
  • Food has not been genetically modified or irradiated.
  • Food is grown and processed without using most conventional pesticides.
  • Fertilizer does not contain sewage sludge or synthetic ingredients.
  • Produce has not been contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.

“Organic” does NOT mean:

  • Organically grown food is not pesticide-free. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (created by the National Organic Standards Board) contains natural (or biological) and synthetic substances that are allowed in organic farming and production as well as natural substances that are prohibited.

Reading the labels:

  • “100% Organic”
  • “Organic:” At least 95% of ingredients are organically produced.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients:” At least 70% of ingredients are organic. The remaining 30% must come from the USDA’s approval list.
  • “Free range” or “Free Roaming:”A misleading term applied to chicken, eggs and other meat. The animal did not necessarily spend a good portion of it”s life outdoors. The rule states only that outdoor access be made available for “an undetermined period each day.”
  • “Natural” or “All Natural:” Does not mean organic. No standard definition for this term exists except when its applied to meat and poultry products, which the USDA defines as not containing any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients. It does not, however, guarantee that antibiotics or hormones were not used.

Note: this claim is not verified. The producer or manufacturer decides whether to use it.


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About the Author

Picture of Dana Juarez, RD, CDE

Dana Juarez, RD, CDE

Dana is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is a wellness educator in the Inland Empire outside of Los Angeles, California.

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