As new studies emerge about organic foods, there is growing controversy over whether they’re truly more nutritious than conventionally grown foods. But one thing’s for sure: If you’re concerned about what’s in the food you’re eating, and you care about preserving our planet, you may want to consider eating more organic food. Organic farmers do not use fertilizers or pesticides to help grow their produce. They also raise their livestock without hormones or antibiotics. By eating organic, you ingest fewer toxins than you would if you eat nonorganic. Organic farming promotes “sustainable” agricultural methods that do not harm the environment and it helps reduce pollution (organic production requires 20 percent less fossil fuel than chemical production). To help you make healthier food choices for yourself and your family, we give you the facts behind these top myths on eating organic:
Myth #1: Foods with an “Organic” label are 100% organic
These days, you’ll find a variety of food products at the grocery store boasting that they are “organic.” Note that a label that just says “organic” means the item contains some organic ingredients, but it is not guaranteed “100% organic.” When shopping, look for products that carry the little green or black seal on the label that says “USDA Organic.” The seal means that a product has a valid organic certificate from a National Organic Program (NOP) accredited certifying agent or from an international trade partnership with the United States and that it will have 95% or more organic content. For more information on organic labeling and how products are certified, visit the USDA site.
Organic foods have more nutrients than conventional foods
While conventionally grown produce provides disease-fighting antioxidant vitamins and essential minerals, research shows that organic produce can have higher levels of nutrients than conventionally grown foods because of the quality of the soil it’s grown in. Studies have shown that applying chemical fertilizers to soil can reduce its nutrient density. However, a 2012 study from Stanford University showed that organic produce is no more nutritious than conventionally grown foods. The study found that while conventional fruits and vegetables have more pesticide residue, there were no major differences in nutrient levels between them and organically grown foods. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, about 30-35 percent of the time, there’s no statistical difference in nutrients between organic and nonorganic foods.
Although the debate continues on whether organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, there’s no debating the health benefits of eating vegetables and fruits, organic or not. On the South Beach Diet, we recommend eating a minimum of 4 1/2 cups of vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and dark greens each day with your meals. On Phase 2, you can enjoy up to three whole fruits in your diet, including apples, berries, bananas, and oranges.
Myth #3: Organic food is more expensive.
It’s a common misconception that going organic — and eating healthfully, for that matter — is expensive, but that doesn’t take into account the true cost of eating an unhealthy diet. While organic foods may have a slightly higher price tag, you can still enjoy the foods you love without breaking your budget, especially if you do a little planning and prepping ahead of time. Most supermarket chains that carry organic produce offer discounts and sales on these products from time to time. Familiarize yourself with your grocery store circular to see what’s on sale and take advantage of the coupons. In addition, food co-ops and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs provide significant discounts on organic foods and they help support local farmers. If you’re on a tight budget, wait until late afternoon to shop at your local farmers’ market; farmers are more likely to give you a better bargain at this time because they prefer not to carry their produce back to the farm.
Myth #4: You can avoid pesticides altogether by eating
Although organic farmers do not use fertilizers or pesticides, organically grown produce can pick up traces of them from the air blown from conventional farms or from the water or packing materials used in processing plants. Even so, the level of pesticide residues found in organic produce is significantly lower than the level in nonorganic produce.
#5: All organic food is healthy.
Not all organic foods are created equal. Among the nutritious organic offerings available are vegetables and fruits, organic beef, pork, and poultry, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and reduced-fat dairy, all of which we recommend on the South Beach Diet. But there are also plenty of sugary and starchy packaged products labeled “organic” that you should avoid altogether, including cookies, crackers, chips, and other baked goods. These highly processed foods can cause swings in blood sugar levels, which can lead to cravings and weight gain.