Guest Post By : Victoria Ward
Obesity in America is one of the fastest growing problems among both adults and children. When visiting European countries, it’s apparent that their lifestyles promote longevity and good health into their senior years.
This trend we see in other countries is primarily the result of healthy eating. This means knowing how and where their food is grown. It’s common in these countries for people to eat fresh produce and know the farm it came from.
Having a personal relationship with healthy food is one of many solutions to obesity and the obesity crisis that we’re seeing in the United States. Not many Americans know what to look for when choosing what to eat. Decision making regarding healthier foods begins with choosing organic foods over non-organic foods. This is very disconcerting for many people, as it can be difficult to determine what makes foods organic or not.
At face value, most people consider organic food to be an unnecessary luxury, and they don’t see many differences between organic and non-organic foods. But there are many attributes that differentiate the two.
These include non-organic synthetic fertilizers versus the organic green plant waste or manure produced by livestock to naturally fertilize the land. Some of the other techniques used in non-organic farming include using human waste or sewer sludge to fertilize, pesticides, and antibiotic/growth hormone-treated livestock.
It’s easy to imagine the effects these farming practices can have on the foods we eat. A shocking truth is that many of the foods produced non-organically are actually treated with radiation to keep pests controlled and as an attempt to preserve the food. It’s an uncomfortable to think that the foods we consume still have traces of pesticides, growth hormones and radiation.
The impact that conventional farming has on the farmlands that support us is tragic. Land that is not farmed organically is often subject to soil erosion, drastically decreasing the quality of the soil. Once again, this is the soil that is used to grow the foods we eat. In organic farming it’s traditional to rotate crops in such a way that the soil never loses its value. This allows the farmers to use the same land for years without going barren.
How do we know whether a food is organic or non-organic? There are varying levels of organic foods, ranging from completely organic to only containing partially organic ingredients. Food marketing does a pretty good job disguising foods or tricking us into purchasing food that may not be what it seems. It’s actually very useful to follow the USDA guidelines when deciding what foods to buy at your next supermarket trip.
The USDA guidelines on organic labeling are:
- 100 percent organic: this label is typically only found on foods that contain a single ingredient, such as fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, and whole grains. It can also sometimes be found on product packaging that has multiple ingredients if every item included is 100 percent organic. These will have a USDA organic seal featured prominently on the package.
- Organic: products with multiple ingredients that are labeled as organic means it has been made with at least 95 percent ingredients that are certified organic. This always excludes salt and water. Any items that are not organic, up to 5 percent, must be from a strictly maintained list of allowable ingredients according to the USDA. These products will also be labeled with a USDA organic seal.
- Made with organic: products that are labeled as made with organic ingredients have to be at least 70 percent certified organic and will likely not carry a USDA organic seal. The ingredients list under the nutrition label of the product will name which ingredients are organic and which are not.
- It has organic ingredients: if the product has less than 70 percent organic ingredients, an item cannot be labeled as organic and will not have a USDA organic seal. The ingredients label will specify which ingredients are organic.
Another sneaky trick used by food advertisers is to use the words “natural” or to create packaging that is green. This includes packaging with pictures of the land the food is supposedly grown on. The term “natural” only means that no food dyes or synthetic preservatives were used (salt is a natural preservative). Many times, people mistake the word “natural” for “organic” when choosing their foods. “Natural” foods do not have to go through the rigorous standards that organic foods must pass to be certified.
If the methods used to produce non-organic foods aren’t enough reason to choose organic, then what about the many benefits to organic foods?
These benefits include an increase in nutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants availability. There are also added omega-3 fatty acids in the alfalfa and grass that are absorbed by organic livestock; and omega-3 fatty acids are one the most heart-healthy fats you could eat. Plus, there are lower levels of toxic metals found in organically grown foods. Another benefit to consuming organic foods is nearly non-detectable levels of pesticides and fewer bacteria in contrast to antibiotic-treated foods.
The evidence that organic foods are better for the human body is overwhelming. In addition to enjoying the benefits of eating organic foods, the next step to creating a deeper relationship with your food is to meet the farmer. Always buy your foods from the farmer’s market and build a relationship with the farmer who grows your foods. This connection with our food could save the United States from the path that poor lifestyle choices and obesity has led us down.