Welcome to another post in our Two Birdees’ Healthy Eats series! Last time, we talked about choosing the safest, most nutritional fish and seafood for kids. We also discovered that organic labels are more confusing and harder to come by than we’d thought. So for this installment, we’re taking a closer look at what makes food organic and why some foods get the organic label. We’ll also cover which fruits and veggies benefit most from being grown organically, and concerns you should keep in mind when shopping for your little birdees.
Over the last few years, healthy eating has turned into big business all over the world, but especially in the US. In 2015, Americans spent nearly $40 billion on organic food. That’s nearly three times as much as in 2005, just a decade before.
We at Two Birdees think it’s great that today’s kids are growing up in a more health conscious world. But when almost every product in the grocery store claims to be some form of organic/natural/GMO free superfood, how can you be sure you’re actually buying the healthiest food for your little birdees? We wrote this FAQ to help you out.
What makes produce organic in the first place?
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic food is grown without “excluded methods” that have shown at least some evidence of being harmful to humans or our environment.
Here are some of the things organic produce can’t contain, and why they got left out.
GMOs: GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” This means any plant, animal, etc. that has been genetically modified, usually to make them bigger, more flavorful, or resistant to disease. GMOs aren’t necessarily bad for you--lemons, which are an ancient cross between bitter oranges and citrons, are technically GMOs -- but the fact remains that they aren’t natural.
Pesticides are used to keep pests, like insects and weeds, in check. The trouble with the chemical pesticides used on most non-organic farms is that they aren’t targeted enough. They can also harm the environment by killing helpful insects and ruining the normal balance of insect populations. Organic growers use pest control methods that don’t involve chemicals, such as releasing predatory insects into their fields to take care of other, crop destroying insects, or laying down a thick layer of organic mulch to smother weeds.
Ionizing Radiation is a way of making food last by exposing it to x-rays or other forms of radiation. The radiation stops any bacteria and mold that may be in the food from multiplying, which keeps it fresh longer. Even the low doses of radiation used on food can, over time, increase the risk of cancer.
So really, organic food isn’t “better for you” in that it contains more nutrients than its non-organic counterparts; it just has less of the stuff that can harm you.
What do different organic/health food labels mean?
Not all organic food is created equal. The USDA is the only group in the US allowed to certify an item as organic, but they can’t stop non-certified foods from using the word “organic” on their packaging.
To be sure a food is really organic, look for the USDA Organic Seal on its packaging. It’s worth noting that even food with the USDA Organic seal isn’t made from 100% organic materials unless it specifically says so. In the US, there are four levels of organic certification: 100% Organic (all ingredients meet organic standards); Organic (at least 95% organic materials); Made With Organic Materials (at least 70%) and Less than 70% Organic Ingredients.
You may also see labels that say Non-GMO Project Verified. This means the product has been certified GMO free, but hasn’t been held to USDA Organic standards for radiation, pesticides, fertilizers, and all the rest. Since certified organic food is already GMO free, it’s better to stick with products sporting the USDA Organic seal.
Beware packaging with vague phrases like “all natural,” “fortified,” and “hormone free.” These can mean practically anything, and there are no standards to decide which foods or brands can use them.
Is buying organic produce worth it?
The short answer is yes...most of the time.
It’s easy to say that all produce should be grown in completely organic conditions. But organic growing methods have some drawbacks. For example, vegetables that need warm, wet conditions to grow are more likely to breed bacteria if they are grown in chemically untreated (a.k.a organic) water. In 2011, a dangerous E.coli outbreak in Germany was believed to have started with a batch of bean sprouts from a pesticide free, organic farm.
For this reason, it’s probably better to shy away from organic produce grown in wet conditions, like watercress, many leafy greens, and bean sprouts.
On the other hand, here are some kinds of produce that should be bought organic whenever possible. These are mostly thin-skinned berries and porous fruits which absorb a lot of non-organic pesticides when sprayed. According to the Environmental Working Group, the top 10 fruits and veggies that absorb pesticides are:
Sweet Bell Peppers
Thick-skinned produce, like oranges and corn, or root vegetables like onions are better protected from pesticides, and so buying organic may be less important. In the end, it’s up to you whether the health benefits outweigh the extra cost of buying organic. Increase the safety of all your fruits and veggies by washing them thoroughly before you serve them in your home nest.
Thanks for reading! We hope this post helped guide you to make healthy choices for your little birdees.
Two Birdees is one of the premier infant and children's clothing stores specializing in eco friendly baby clothes, but we want to be more than that. We also want to help educate moms about healthy and natural child care, whether in clothing, food, playtime, or elsewhere. Stay tuned for more posts on these important topics; in the meantime, browse our shop for organic baby clothes, including bamboo baby clothes from Kickee Pants and organic cotton baby clothes from brands like Finn + Emma. Talk to you soon!