We’ve all been there: stuck in the grocery store, holding the non-organic apple in one hand and the organic apple in the other (and maybe also trying to hold your fussy child!). With organic food’s popularity increasing right along with its prices, many of us have begun to wonder: is organic food actually better?
Particularly as parents, we want to provide our kids with the healthiest, safest option. This guide will walk you through what “organic” actually means, and discuss some of organic food’s benefits.
The goal of organic farming is to reduce farming’s impacts on the environment and human health through improved farming practices. Organic practices can be used to grow fruits and vegetables, to grow grains, and to produce meat and dairy products.
While organic farming has included many sustainable practices over the years, the United States Department of Agriculture clearly defined the term “organic” with the creation of the USDA organic seal in 1990. Today, food producers can become organic certified by following a set of strict, federally-mandated organic guidelines. This includes:
- No artificial fertilizers
- No synthetic pesticides
- No genetic engineering of crops
- No antibiotics or other hormones for livestock
Next time you’re grocery shopping, if you look closely you may notice that food products may display a few different kinds of organic claims. For example, some foods are 100% organic or 95% organic and display the USDA organic seal, while others are merely “made with organic flour” or “made with organic ingredients.” Anything with ingredients less than 95% organic cannot carry the USDA seal.
There are a few other food labels that are closely related to organic foods. For example, GlobalG.A.P. certification shows that every step of the food’s production process is done safely and sustainably, and Regenerative Organic certification shows that the food was grown using regenerative farming practices that improve soil health. However, these alternative labels are not yet found in most conventional grocery stores, so for now, keep your eyes peeled for the USDA organic seal.
Benefits of Organic Food
While it’s clear that organic farming is less harmful to the environment, the health benefits of organic food are still subject to some debate. Here, we’ll discuss several benefits of organic food that have solid scientific support.
1. Better for the environment
The main, undisputed benefit of organic food is that it is much better for the environment than conventional farming. Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers used in conventional farming can have severe impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. For example, when synthetic fertilizers mix with water running off the farm, it can end up in the ocean and cause ocean acidification, which kills shellfish and other marine species. Insecticides like neonicotinoids can also kill off bees, which are crucial pollinators and allow us to produce enough food.
Additionally, organic farming improves soil health and focuses on improving the treatment of farm animals.
2. Lower pesticide residues
Organic farming doesn’t use synthetic pesticides, and therefore leaves less pesticide residue on the food. In fact, a 2019 study found that eating an organic diet reduces the amount of pesticides found in the body. This is important because many pesticides can have serious health impacts in large doses, including asthma, cancer, hormonal imbalances and reproductive harm. Pesticides have also been linked to increased behavioral and attention problems in children. While it’s possible that there isn’t enough pesticide residue on most foods to actually cause harm, there’s no doubt that you eat fewer pesticides when eating organic food.
3. More nutritious
While this is perhaps the most debated claim about organic food, organic food actually does have higher amounts of certain nutrients. A 2010 review found that organic foods have higher levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. Additionally, organic foods (not including wheat, oats and wine) have higher levels of antioxidants, which may help reduce your risk of disease. That said, eating organic food has not been explicitly linked to health benefits in humans.
4. Decreased levels of cadmium
Many conventional foods are grown using phosphate-based fertilizers, which adds cadmium, a heavy metal to the food. Studies have shown that organic food has lower levels of cadmium as a result of being grown without synthetic fertilizers. Cadmium is toxic in high quantities and can cause some types of cancer. However, some experts argue that we shouldn’t worry about cadmium in our food because it’s only present in very small, safe amounts.
Ultimately, the answer to the question “is organic food better for your kids” is yes. Not only is organic food better for the environment, which helps create a livable future for your children, but it does provide slightly more nutrients and fewer pesticides. While we can’t be sure just how much these benefits actually affect our health and our kids’ health, you certainly can’t go wrong by choosing organic, and you might get some extra nutrients along the way!
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