Buying organic foods: What you need to know

  • Published
  • By Kayla Scherf
  • Health and Wellness Center registered dietician
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic food sales have increased over the years.

Organic products are different from conventional products because of the way farmers grow and process them. These farmers use natural fertilizers, beneficial insects and birds to reduce pests and disease, provide animals organic feed and allow them to access the outdoors.

There are several possible reasons for choosing to buy organic foods. One reason is many people feel that it is safer to buy organic foods due to the amount of pesticides used on many of the fruits and vegetables. They also think if they buy organic, there is a lower potential of becoming a victim of a food-borne illness.

However, this is not true. According to the USDA, the pesticide residues on most products are below government-established thresholds. However, organic foods do have a lower pesticide residue.

When it comes to organic foods and food-borne illness, it is still important to practice safe handling of foods and always wash fruits and vegetables. Organic fruits and vegetables are still fertilized with manure or compost and can still cause illness.

Another reason people buy organic is because they think it is a healthier choice. Just because you buy an organic orange doesn't mean that you are going to get extra vitamin C. There is little supporting evidence organic food is more nutritious.

Also keep in mind that you still need to read the nutrition labels because many of the organic foods still contain as much saturated fat, sodium and calories as conventional food.

Many people who are concerned with the environment choose to buy organic. Organic farming has had a small beneficial impact on the environment because this type of farming is still scarce.

When choosing organic foods, look for the official label that states that it is USDA organic. There are three important USDA labels to look for: 100 percent organic, organic and made with organic ingredients.

Unless a food is 100 percent organic, it is only required to be 95 percent organic to receive an organic label. Products that are made from organic ingredients contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

It is also important to keep in mind that organic foods spoil faster because they are free of waxes and preservatives that tend to help keep foods longer.

Organic foods tend to be higher in price as well. To make your money stretch, stick with buying the foods that tend to have the lowest amount of chemical residue. These foods include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots and pears.

Whether you choose to buy organic or not, continue to follow the food guide pyramid and dietary guidelines. Make sure that you are getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low fat dairy in your diet every day.

For more information or to make an appointment with the dietician, call 229-257-4292 or stop by the Health and Wellness Center (HAWC) located in the Freedom I Fitness Center.