To be considered an organic food, the product must pass through a stringent certification process conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organic food is considered to be free of synthetic chemicals, genetically engineered materials, sewage sludge or irradiation. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, foods labeled organic and bearing the USDA organic seal must contain at least 95 percent organically grown ingredients. The remaining 5 percent must be ingredients the USDA has approved for organic farming. Foods containing 70 percent organic ingredients are labeled "Made With Organic Ingredients."
Fruits grown organically have been shown to have higher levels of antioxidants and similar nutritive properties than those grown commercially with genetic engineering or the use of pesticides. The Organic Trade Association suggests that in sharp contrast to commercially grown fruit, organically grown adds to the retention of valuable nutrients. In a two-year study at Washington State University, organic fruits such as strawberries were shown to taste better, have a longer shelf life and carry higher levels of vitamin C and phenolic compounds, which protect against cancer.
Like fruit, organic vegetables can also have significantly greater health benefits than commercially grown types. Explanations for the health benefits include better growing practices and more nutrient-dense products. The Organic Trade Association further explains that vegetables from commercial farmers have higher concentrations of pesticides, chemically-treated fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones. While helping the farmer reduce waste and increase productivity, these chemicals have also been linked to environmental concerns, cancer clusters and nearly twice the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children exposed to abnormally high levels of pesticides.
Organic whole grains can include brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, rye, buckwheat, spelt, wheat bran and berries and any other grain that has been minimally processed and meets certification standards. Like other organics, whole grain products are generally more nutritious due to their higher fiber content, low fat content and the abundance of vitamins and minerals they contain. Grain Foods Foundation adds that whole grain foods are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates that provide energy to the body while aiding in weight management, immunity, balance in the nervous system, their ability to regulate the digestive system, lower blood pressure and keep cholesterol in check.
Organic Meat and Poultry
Organically-grown animals are farmed using natural methods. The Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific's "Guidelines for Humane Handling, Transport and Slaughter of Livestock" suggests that when animals experience extreme duress this produces a poor meat quality and abnormally high pH levels in the end product. For certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers must uphold free range practices to decrease stress on the animals, allow for better living conditions and feed them only certified organic food and grass.
- Natural Resources Defense Council: The Benefits of Organic Food
- Organic Trade Association: Nutritional Considerations
- Organic Trade Association: Organic Health Benefits
- Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific: Guidelines for Humane Handling, Transport and Slaughter of Livestock
- Grain Foods Foundation: Nutrition Info, Overview