Breaking down Organic
How something comes to be considered organic, why that should be important to us, and suggestions for what to buy organic.
Written By Gina Ciaccio
Ahhhhh, organic. This is a very tricky subject seeing that organics are controlled by the government, and individuals tend to hold very strong viewpoints on the matter. When it comes down to it, making the best decision for yourself and your family is the most important, and that can only be up to you. However, a little bit of information to back your decision can never hurt. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t even need to be a conversation topic and we’d be able to trust where our food is coming from. But frankly, that’s not the case. So, staying informed is key.
When I’m shopping, I focus on buying mostly all processed foods that come packaged organic (including things I put on my body), rice, beans, oats and produce which is on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list organic, see very end of this article for the list. I hope to one day live in a chemical free world, but that’s not our reality. So, finding balance when I can is always on my mind.
Like most topics in nutrition and science, there are opposing research backed viewpoints to buying organic vs conventional. Most research finds that there is not a significant nutritional difference to eating an organic diet. Though, there still stands to be a long term case study done from childhood to adulthood for effects. Ultimately, the pesticides that are found on our food can be linked to cancer and can be considered to be possible carcinogens to humans, among other harmful outcomes. Not to mention, some pesticides which are widely used in the U.S. have been banned in other countries for years, which in my eyes says something. As an informed consumer, we are not only protecting ourselves and our families, but when we buy organic we are voting with our dollar by supporting safe practices for our planet, community and workers on the farms who tend to our food. The USDA organic seal on a product means it is more than 95% organic. To receive the organic seal farmers and manufacturers must go through a certification process in which their product meets strict government standards. Here’s what that means... For Produce:
Soil quality - no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Actually enhance the soil and water quality so that produce is grown with healthy organisms, minerals and the like.
Pest and weed control managed without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Relies on natural substances for growing.
These all in effect reduce pollution and help to promote self-sustaining farming resources.
Healthy living conditions which accommodate their natural behaviors such as grazing on a pasture.
Fed 100% organic feed and forage.
Not given hormones or antibiotics for growing.
For Packaged/Processed Items:
No artificial preservatives, colors or flavors
Ingredients must be at least 95% organic, some minor exceptions.
NOT Allowed in Organic:
Synthetic chemicals and pesticides.
Genetically modified materials.
Antibiotics or growth hormones.
Sewage sludge as fertilizer.
Environmental Working Group’s Research & Tests
Even if there aren’t clear, researched benefits for eating organic, I think this statement via Harvard Medical urges motivation to shift towards buying organic, “Organic agriculture aims to preserve natural resources, support animal health and welfare, and avoid most synthetic materials.” With lacking research evidence showing that organic food does drastically improve your health, you can at the very least be aware that buying organic is contributing to the health and safety of our planet and animals.
The Environmental Working Group “has fought for consumers' rights to live healthier lives in a healthier environment” since 1993. Since 2004, each year EWG publishes their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list based on clinical tests of pesticides in produce. The tests are conducted by the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration of more than 43,000 samples of produce. It is important to note that the tests are done after the food is washed, cooked and prepared, as we would do at home before we eat it.
The EWG strongly urges consumers to educate themselves and to shop organic when able. They provide plenty of data to support their side and are working on raising awareness to the most used farming pesticide agent in the U.S., Round Up, that contains the chemical glyphosate which is oftentimes associated with elevated risks of cancer among other weird health related things. Via EWG, foods that test very high in pesticides:
Hot and sweet bell peppers
Beans and legumes
Rice and wheat
*My tip to you is to consider the five items listed above when you are buying packaged foods such as cereal, bread, hummus, chips, prepared foods, etc. Note: EWG tests showed glyphosate in 95% of oats based products, including children’s cereal. EWG’s 2021 Clean Fifteen (tests showed these items has the lowest amounts of pesticide residue, ok to buy conventional):
Frozen sweet peas
EWG’s 2021 Dirty Dozen (suggested to buy these organic):
Raisins! The dirtiest.
Spinach and leafy greens
Kale - The chemical found on kale is considered a possible human carcinogen and was banned in the EU in 2009.
Hot and bell peppers - Include pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain.
As stated in my previous blog post, it’s so excellent to be aware of these items when grocery shopping. If you can prioritize buying the “Dirty” items organic, then the rest of your shopping can be bought conventional. This is a great way for fitting buying organic items in your budget!
About the Author:
Gina Ciaccio is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Fine Art. She has a no-nonsense, intuitive, and realistic approach to health and wellness.
For more information on Holistic Coaching, visit