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Food that is labeled "organic" has been grown
or raised without chemical fertilizers, pest killers (pesticides), weed
killers (herbicides), hormones, or drugs.
This means that farmers and ranchers who grow
Some countries, including the United States, have rules
that govern when a farmer or rancher may use the
organic label. Before a grower can use that label, a
government inspector goes to the farm to make sure that the rules are being
Don't assume that food labeled "natural," "sustainable," "hormone-free," or "free-range"
is organic. Look for the organic seal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed labeling
organic foods. The USDA organic seal and the word "organic" can be
displayed on organic foods. This use is voluntary, so some organic foods may
not be labeled as such.
Single-ingredient foods. The word "organic"
and the seal may appear on fruits and vegetables and on packages of meat,
cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods that are
grown or raised organically.
Multi-ingredient foods. All ingredients or
just some of the ingredients in a food may be organic. Look for the
Food that's grown organically may cost more than conventionally grown foods for many reasons, including these:
You may be able to
save money by shopping around. Sometimes the price of organic products is close to the price of conventional ones, especially when they are in season or on sale.
More and more organic foods are showing up in the
produce aisles of local grocery stores. It can be confusing to know when to buy
organic versions of your favorite foods. Many people buy organic food because they are worried
about the environment. And many people buy organic food to avoid chemicals, especially
pesticides, in their food.
You may have these questions about
You can avoid pesticides by buying only organic food. Or you could buy organic
versions of only the foods you eat most often or of only those foods that have the most pesticides when grown on
The following fruits and vegetables generally have the highest pesticide
When you buy commercially grown produce, take these steps to lower the amount of pesticides on your food:
Remember that eating nonorganic fruits and vegetables,
even those with higher pesticide levels, is better than not eating fruits and
vegetables at all.
Organic foods are free of chemicals like hormones and antibiotics. But you can also find chemical-free foods that aren't organic. For example, look for:
Another option is to buy from
local farms and ranches, whether they're certified organic or not. Many small
farms use organic methods but can't afford to become certified. Food from
local farms is also likely to be fresher, which means it will taste better and
may even cost less. Visit farmers' markets to find locally grown food.
GMO stands for "genetically
modified organism," which is a plant or animal whose DNA has been changed in a
lab. Another term for this is genetic engineering (GE). Scientists can take genes from one type of organism and put them in
another. Many people believe that GMOs make food healthier or last longer. But some people
worry that not enough testing has been done to know whether GMOs are harmful.
The most common GMOs in the U.S. food supply are soy, canola, corn, sugar beets, and squash. Most processed
foods contain GMOs in one form or another, often as soy flour, soybean or canola oil, or corn syrup.
In most countries, foods that are labeled "organic" aren't supposed to contain
any GMOs. But organic foods may come in contact with GMOs even though the farmer or grower
follows the rules for organic farming.
You may see food labels that say "no GMO," "non-GMO,"
or "GMO-free." This is a claim by the maker that the product does not contain
any GMOs. There is some debate, though, about how accurate such labels are.
The USDA food guide website provides many
options to help people make healthy food choices and to be active every day.
Enter your age, gender, and activity level to get a food plan specific to your
needs. You can also print out worksheets for tracking your progress and goals.
On this website, you'll find answers to many of your questions about healthy
This Web site has information on nutrition, healthy
eating, exercise, and food safety. You can use an e-mail form to ask a
Other Works Consulted
Dodd JL (2012). Behavioral-environmental: The individual in the community. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13th ed., pp. 229–250. St Louis: Saunders.
Environmental Working Group (2012). EWG's 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Washington, DC: Environmental Working Group. Available online: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2008). National Organic Program: Background and history. Available online: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004443&acct=nopgeninfo.
Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Consumer concerns about foods and water. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 647–682. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
January 25, 2013
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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