Organic: What does that really mean?

The nutritional content of organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables are similar.

The organic food industry has reached over $29 billion, so it is important for us to learn, what is organic? With terms like certified organic, organic, all natural and certified naturally grown, it can be extremely confusing. This article will focus on the nutritional content of organic versus non-organic foods, but for more information on other terms and definitions please visit the Eat Right website or you can read previous Michigan State University Extension article titled Organic foods: Understanding the labels.

If an item is produced following the United States DepartmentUSDA ORGANIC LABEL of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) Standards and certified, then the NOP label will most likely include the Organic seal (shown to the right). The producer is not required to have the label on the packaging, but most prefer to. In order to become certified organic in the U.S., the producer must have their cultural, biological and mechanical practices up to USDA standards. The farmer must also successfully pay, complete and pass an annual inspection conducted by a USDA certified agency. In addition, their practices must promote environmental balance. Note that synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation and genetically engineered crops are prohibited in this system.

Over the past few years, organic foods have been in the spotlight. Although research is still ongoing, so far it has been concluded that the nutritional content of organic and non-organic is the same. Meaning, for example, you will get the same vitamins, minerals and fiber from an organic apple in comparison to a non-organic apple. It has been shown that organic produce generally has less pesticide residue on them than non-organic produce, but both organic and non-organic residue levels are below the government’s safety standards. Whether you’re consuming organic or non-organic produce, it is important for you to wash and scrub fruits and veggies under running water. This will get rid of much of the chemical residue that may be left on the item, along with reducing the amount of dirt and bacteria on the surface.

It is important for you to decide what is best for you and your family when purchasing fruits and vegetables. You and your family may want to weigh the cost, availability, taste and feasibility of purchasing organic fruits and vegetables.

Overall, making half your plate fruit and vegetables (organic or non-organic) may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, and also provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health. The best part is that most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, and they are filling!

MSU Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults that discuss choosing healthy options from each food group, shopping on a budget, as well as basic nutrition information. More information can be found at the listed websites:

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/eating_right_is_basic_erib

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/cooking_matters

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