The Surprising Truth About Organic Foods

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Fruits and vegetables are either organic or not, end of story--but processed foods can be trickier.The popularity of organic food has led to a lot of misrepresentation and clever marketing, making it easy to be fooled about the products you buy. Nothing can stop a local grower from claiming produce is organic when it really isn’t! (To reduce the odds of that happening to you, buy only from certified organic growers.)

At the grocery store, there is additional reason for caution. Many big food manufacturers are acquiring small organic companies and developing new lines of organic foods. As this continues to happen, expect to see more processed foods and beverages with organic claims on their labels, even though some of those products may not live up to the ideal the organic food movement is rooted in.

With the high price of “organic” foods how do you know if what you’re buying is truly organic—or not? Fruits and vegetables are either organic or conventional. End of story. However, processed foods can be less than 100 percent organic and still qualify for one of USDA’s “organic” designations. Here is where you need to read labels carefully because you can get fooled.

Here’s how to decode the product labels:

  • Made with organic ingredients. At least 70 percent of the product is organic. The remaining 30 percent can be made of non-organically produced agricultural ingredients, not including water and salt. There cannot be any added sulfites, except for sulfur dioxides used in wine.
  • Organic. At least 95 percent of the product’s ingredients must be organic, not including added water and salt. The remaining 5 percent can be non-organically produced agricultural ingredients that are not commercially available in organic form—but those ingredients must be on a USDA-approved list. 
  •  One hundred percent organic. The product is organic, inside-out, not including added water and salt. 

But you don’t have to choose organic every time.  While there are several foods like peaches, apples, strawberries, and butter where organic is a must—with other foods like kiwis and avocados, organic doesn’t matter. That’s because pesticides can’t penetrate their skin.

Now it’s your turn: Which foods do you buy organic?

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