How to buy safe organic food
Many of us use the term biological without really knowing what it is. We just know it’s better than non-organic, which is partially true, according to the type of organic product you buy. Basically, how organic ingredients are labeled and whether they carry the USDA organic seal determines how much of the product is actually organic and what regulations the company had to follow to market in that way.
Whether you are just starting your organic journey or are a long-time practitioner, it always makes sense to get up to speed on what organic is and how to identify organic ingredients.
Luckily, I’ve put together a quick reference Biological Leveling Guide for you! Let’s dive in!
Everything about organic
What does organic really mean? Yes, this is definitely a term you should look for when browsing the grocery store shelves. No, that does not mean that a product is healthy. The term biological “Refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed”. As easy as that! That said, there is different levels of biological that a product can be. In the USA, “Organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, genetics from bioengineering (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage-sludge fertilizers” in order to be classified like USDA organic.
Organic foods come with a list of benefits including fewer pesticides, generally richer nutrients, non-GMOs, fewer pesticides, fresher food and organic farming is generally better for the environment.
Debunking the biological myth of “pesticide free”
The biggest misconception about organic food is that it is 100 percent pesticide free. This is unfortunately not true. While organic foods contain much less pesticides than non-organic produce, organic farmers are allowed to use pesticides. So what’s the difference? Organic farmers use “naturally occurring pesticides, rather than the synthetic pesticides used on conventional commercial farms.”
National list of prohibited substances
The National list of prohibited substances is formulated by the government and is used during the USDA organic food rating. This listing “Identifies substances which can and cannot be used in organic crops and animal production”, as well as substances “Which can be used in or on processed organic products”. According to the type of food produced and the type of certification desired, certain synthetic substances are prohibited.
If you are curious to see the full list, you can find it on the government site via the electronic code of federal regulations.
Getting to know the organic categories
When it comes to organic products, it is extremely important to understand the different categories and how they are labeled on the packaging. Why? It turns out that a product that has 70 percent organic ingredients may use the term “organic” on their packaging. In addition, the USDA organic symbol may be used on a product that contains either 100 percent organic ingredients, a minimum 95 percent organic ingredients, or anywhere between 70 percent and 95 percent organic ingredients. If you are an organic freak like me then you will want to know how to identify the difference between these organic categories.
100 percent organic
If you see a package that markets its product as 100% organic and they have the USDA organic seal, so you’re buying a product that’s actually 100 percent organic. What does it mean? A 100 percent organic product – and remember that the USDA organic label – “was produced and processed using only organic methods and organic ingredients (excluding water and salt, but including processing aids ). ” Why the USDA Seal? A USDA organic seal means the facility has passed an on-site inspection by a certified USDA official and no ingredients from the National Prohibited Substance List have been used. Having said that, it’s incredibly complicated to meet these requirements meaning “Most of the products in this category are single ingredient products. “
The most common term you will see in the grocery store is biological. A labeled food product biological and has the USDA organic seal on the packaging was produced “using only organic methods and contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients”. This is pretty good considering that most of the 100% organic ingredients are unique ingredients! In addition, this identifier also takes into account consider the remaining 5 percent as well, which is “GMO-free and is on the national list of non-organic ingredients allowed in certified organic farming and processing”.
Made with organic ingredients
As we move into the area of “a little organic” it gets a little more convoluted. That said, there are still guidelines that food products must follow in order to use this terminology on their packaging.
Labeled products made with organic ingredients “Contain between 70% and 95% organic ingredients”, must contain non-GMO ingredients, are product without “Irradiation or sewage sludge” and have been certified organic. In addition to this, the packing can list “Up to three ingredients or food groups on the front panel. The main identifier of these products is that they are not allowed use the USDA organic label even if they are certified organic. It’s a great way to choose between certain food items – such as USDA Organic Quinoa vs. Quinoa made with organic – where one contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients and the other can only contain 75 percent organic ingredients.
Having said that, the made with organic is described as a “A springboard for companies always looking for organic sources for some of their ingredients. This means that if you can’t afford the USDA biologic, go for made with organic non-organic is safer, cleaner, and you will be supporting a company working towards their USDA organic certification.
Less than 70% organic products
This category is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to organic food products, but this is usually where companies aiming to become USDA certified organic should start.
Any food product made with “Less than 70% organic ingredients or less can use the word ‘organic’ to specify organic ingredients in the ingredients panel”, yet they are not authorized to market the food product as being organic or certified organic. These foods will be not have the USDA organic seal. It is also important to note that these foods are not regulated on the use of GMO ingredients, irradiation or sewage sludge.
Although some organic ingredients are better than nothing, these food products are not regulated by the USDA’s organic program, but must still follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for safe production.
Know your dirty dozen and your own fortnight
For those of us who cannot afford to buy all organic food, there is another option! Have you ever heard of the Dirty Dozen? How about the clean fifteen? These refer to two lists – one with twelve foods and the other with fifteen – released to the public regarding which ones you should. always buy organic foods – usually foods without a protective skin barrier – and those that you can fake a bit and buy non-organic foods – usually foods with a protective skin barrier. Below is an overview of the current 2019 lists!
The dirty dozen
The list of twelve dirty foods is produced by the Environmental working group (EWG) along with “fruits and vegetables, nonprofits claim to have the highest amount of pesticides when grown conventionally compared to organic farming.” The EWG uses “40,900 samples for 47 different product types,” to create a dirty dozen list. Make sure to wash these foods well if you don’t decide to buy them organic!
- Kale, collard greens and mustard leaves
- Bell and hot peppers
The Fifteen Clean
In addition to the dirty dozen, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) also publishes a list of fifteen foods who are safe to buy non-organic products. This is mainly because these foods have a natural protective skin that prevents harmful pesticides from seeping into the meat of the product you would ultimately eat. The fifteen foods below have the less pesticide residues in the sample tested:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Kiwi fruit
- Honeydew melon
We also recommend that you download our Food Monster app, available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app offers over 15,000 herbal and allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers get access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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